Microsatellite evidence for sperm storage and multiple paternity in the marine gastropod Crepidula coquimbensis
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In gregarious species with copulation and internal fertilization, male–male competition and female cryptic choice may affect reproductive success of both sexes. We carried out a molecular analysis to study paternity and sperm use by females in the protandrous marine brooding gastropod Crepidula coquimbensis. In the field, a single female inhabits an empty hosting shell with up to six males. This gregarious behavior may promote intra-brood multiple paternity if females can store sperm from several consecutive copulations with the surrounding males. To study female sperm usage, the males sharing shelters with five different adult females were collected and preserved for paternity analysis. Females were transported alive to the laboratory and isolated for six months. After that, an additional male was offered to each of the five study females. Once the females had laid capsules, a total of 528 embryos from the five females were assigned paternity based on five microsatellite loci. Paternity analysis showed that every male sharing the empty hosting shell of a female as well as the additional male were assigned fatherhood of embryos laid by this specific female. Females can thus use sperms from multiple males including sperms stored for at least six months. In addition, in four out of the five offspring arrays, a similar contribution of each male to the brood was observed, a pattern associated with the close relationship between the number of fathers observed and the effective paternity index calculated. These results contrast with those of paternity analyses carried out in another species of the same genus, C. fornicata which is characterized by a stacking behavior in which the closest male to the female achieves the highest reproductive success. Male reproductive success may be largely influenced by the aggregation pattern and male mating opportunities in the Crepidula complex, a hypothesis to be examined further by studying other species exhibiting different grouping behavior.