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The genetic mating system of a sea spider with male-biased sexual size dimorphism: evidence for paternity skew despite random mating success.


Male-biased size dimorphism is usually expected to evolve in taxa with intense male-male competition for mates, and it is hence associated with high variances in male mating success. Most species of pycnogonid sea spiders exhibit female-biased size dimorphism, and are notable among arthropods for having exclusive male parental care of embryos. Relatively little, however, is known about their natural history, breeding ecology, and mating systems. Here we first show that Ammothella biunguiculata, a small intertidal sea spider, exhibits male-biased size dimorphism. Moreover, we combine genetic parentage analysis with quantitative measures of sexual selection to show that male body size does not appear to be under directional selection. Simulations of random mating revealed that mate acquisition in this species is largely driven by chance factors, although actual paternity success is likely non-randomly distributed. Finally, the opportunity for sexual selection (I(s)), an indirect metric for the potential strength of sexual selection, in A. biunguiculata males was less than half of that estimated in a sea spider with female-biased size dimorphism, suggesting the direction of size dimorphism may not be a reliable predictor of the intensity of sexual selection in this group. We highlight the suitability of pycnogonids as model systems for addressing questions relating parental investment and sexual selection, as well as the current lack of basic information on their natural history and breeding ecology. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1170-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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