Evolution of egg size and fertilisation efficiency in sea stars: large eggs are not fertilised more readily than small eggs in the genus Patiriella (Echinodermata: Asteroidea)
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- Styan, C.A., Byrne, M. & Franke, E. Marine Biology (2005) 147: 235. doi:10.1007/s00227-005-1554-4
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Fertilisation kinetics theory suggests that, when sperm are limiting, the larger eggs of broadcast-spawning marine organisms ought to be fertilised more frequently than smaller eggs, because they provide a bigger target for searching sperm. Whilst this effect has been demonstrated within species, it is not known if this pattern holds among species. We tested whether a large difference in egg size between congeneric seastars with contrasting planktotrophic and lecithotrophic modes of development results in differences in the likelihood of eggs being fertilised in sperm-limiting situations. Measurement of egg sizes and sperm swimming speeds led to the prediction that the sperm–egg collision rate constant for Patiriella calcar (420-µm-diameter egg) should be nine times greater than for P. regularis (140-µm-diameter egg). Although the eggs of P. calcar should be fertilised at greater rates in low sperm concentrations, they were not. When gametes were allowed to mix for 10 s, the hypothesis that P. calcar eggs required less sperm than P. regularis to ensure 50% of eggs were fertilised was rejected. When gametes were mixed for 5 min, P. regularis eggs were more frequently fertilised, but the difference was not statistically significant. We conclude there must be a difference between these species in the likelihood that when a sperm finds a conspecific egg it can successfully fertilise. This apparent uncoupling of egg size and likelihood of fertilisation suggests that fertilisation is not a major constraint on the evolution of egg size in these seastars.