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Quantitative measures of sexual selection reveal no evidence for sex-role reversal in a sea spider with prolonged paternal care


Taxa in which males alone invest in postzygotic care of offspring are often considered good models for investigating the proffered relationships between sexual selection and mating systems. In the pycnogonid sea spider Pycnogonum stearnsi, males carry large egg masses on their bodies for several weeks, so this species is a plausible candidate for sex-role reversal (greater intensity of sexual selection on females than on males). Here, we couple a microsatellite-based assessment of the mating system in a natural population with formal quantitative measures of genetic fitness to investigate the direction of sexual selection in P. stearnsi. Both sexes proved to be highly polygamous and showed similar standardized variances in reproductive and mating successes. Moreover, the fertility (number of progeny) of males and females appeared to be equally and highly dependent on mate access, as shown by similar Bateman gradients for the two sexes. The absence of sex-role reversal in this population of P. stearnsi is probably attributable to the fact that males are not limited by brooding space but have evolved an ability to carry large numbers of progeny. Body length was not a good predictor of male mating or reproductive success, so the aim of future studies should be to determine what traits are the targets of sexual selection in this species.

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