Developmental failure caused by excess sperm (polyspermy) is thought to be an important mechanism driving the evolution of gamete-recognition proteins, reproductive isolation, and speciation in marine organisms. However, these theories assume that there is heritable variation in the susceptibility to polyspermy and that this variation is related to the overall affinity between sperm and eggs. These assumptions have not been critically examined. We investigated the relationship between ease of fertilization and susceptibility to polyspermy within and among three congeneric sea urchins. The results from laboratory studies indicate that, both within and among species, individuals and species that produce eggs capable of fertilization at relatively low sperm concentrations are more susceptible to polyspermy, whereas individuals and species producing eggs that require higher concentrations of sperm to be fertilized are more resistant to polyspermy. This relationship sets the stage for selection on gamete traits that depend on sperm availability and for sexual conflict that can influence the evolution of gamete-recognition proteins and eventually lead to reproductive isolation.
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Vol. 61 • No. 8