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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Genetic evidence for extreme polyandry and extraordinary sex-role reversal in a pipefish.

  • Author(s): Jones, AG
  • Walker, D
  • Avise, JC
  • et al.

Due to the phenomenon of male pregnancy, the fish family Syngnathidae (seahorses and pipefishes) has historically been considered an archetypal example of a group in which sexual selection should act more strongly on females than on males. However, more recent work has called into question the idea that all species with male pregnancy are sex-role reversed with respect to the intensity of sexual selection. Furthermore, no studies have formally quantified the opportunity for sexual selection in any natural breeding assemblage of pipefishes or seahorses in order to demonstrate conclusively that sexual selection acts most strongly on females. Here, we use a DNA-based study of parentage in the Gulf pipefish Syngnathus scovelli in order to show that sexual selection indeed acts more strongly on females than on males in this species. Moreover, the Gulf pipefish exhibits classical polyandry with the greatest asymmetry in reproductive roles (as quantified by variances in mating success) between males and females yet documented in any system. Thus, the intensity of sexual selection on females in pipefish rivals that of any other taxon yet studied.

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