Behavioral ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 164, Issue 3, pp 627-635

First online:

First evidences of sexual selection by mate choice in marine zooplankton

  • Sara CeballosAffiliated withNational Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark Email author 
  • , Thomas KiørboeAffiliated withNational Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark

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Sexual selection is potentially important in marine zooplankton, presumably the most abundant metazoans on earth, but it has never been documented. We examine the conditions for sexual selection through mate choice and describe mating preferences in relation to size in a marine zooplankter, the pelagic copepod Acartia tonsa. Males produce spermatophores at a rate (~1 day−1) much lower than known female encounter rates for most of the year and the decision to mate a particular female thus implies lost future opportunities. Female egg production increases with female size, and males mating larger females therefore sire more offspring per mating event. Similarly, females encounter males more frequently than they need to mate. Large males produce larger spermatophores than small males and the offspring production of female increases with the size of the spermatophore she receives. Additionally, large spermatophores allow females to fertilize eggs for a longer period. Thus, mating with large males reduces the female’s need for frequent matings and she may sire sons that produce more offspring because size is heritable in copepods. Finally, we show that both males and females mate preferentially with large partners. This is the first demonstration of sexual selection by mate choice in a planktonic organism.


Plankton Copepods Size Mate quality Spermatophore production