, Volume 49, Issue 2-3, pp 196-205

Function of the mating plug in Drosophila hibisci Bock

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The mating plug in Drosophila hibisci Bock is a firm, gelatinous structure that forms within the female’s uterus during copulation. Two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses for the function of the plug were evaluated. The plug may serve as a nutritional gift that females digest, using the constituents for somatic maintenance or to provision eggs as they mature within the ovaries. Alternatively, the plug may act as a chastity enforcement device by preventing subsequent copulations, and thereby reducing sperm competition. Plug size did not decrease within females over a period of 2 days, and dietary treatment in females did not affect plug size. The extent of ovarian provisioning was also not related to plug size. These results weaken the nutritional gift hypothesis. In contrast, the probability of a second copulation increased sharply with an experimental decrease in plug size. Moreover, females with plugs experimentally reduced in size were courted significantly more and mated significantly faster than females with larger plugs. These results support the chastity enforcement hypothesis. The plug retains the ejaculate and concentrates sperm at the anterior end of the uterus near the apertures of the sperm storage organs. The presence of the plug thus probably facilitates the movement of sperm into storage by retaining sperm at the anterior end of the uterus near the apertures of the sperm storage organs, which may be especially important for D. hibisci, in which sperm length is nearly twofold greater than ventral receptacle length. Matings with newly eclosed virgin females were significantly shorter than with older virgins, and copulations with the younger virgins ended more often without any sperm having yet entered into storage. The effectiveness of the plug in safeguarding a male’s ejaculate may have favoured the evolution of shortened copula durations with young virgins. One fitness advantage of shortened copula duration could be time liberated for the pursuit of further mating opportunities.

Received: 12 May 2000 / Revised: 22 September 2000 / Accepted: 15 October 2000