The hypothesis according to which egg size variability in hermaphroditic parasites results from bet-hedging was investigated in a comparative analysis using trematodes as a model. We hypothesized that the species reproducing mainly by self-fertilization should produce smaller eggs than those species that regularly practice cross-fertilization. Indeed, because self-fertilization is usually associated with inbreeding depression, selection should favor individuals spreading the risk of genetically disturbed development across more but smaller eggs, instead of producing fewer eggs, each possessing a large resource supply, of which many may fail to develop because of genetic deficiencies. On the basis of earlier theoretical and empirical studies, we assumed that the ratio length of testis–length of ovary positively correlates with the mating group size and, hence, with opportunities for cross-fertilization. In accordance with the bet-hedging hypothesis, we found, across trematode species, a positive relationship between this ratio and the mean egg volume produced by adults. This result was, however, observed only for the trematodes infecting birds and not for the species infecting fishes and mammals. In addition, once the influence of trematode phylogeny was taken into account, there was no significant trend, suggesting that phylogenetic legacies played a large role in generating the previous signal. Experimental tests of the bet-hedging hypothesis will be necessary to clarify the matter.
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