, Volume 68, Issue 8, pp 1321-1328
Date: 10 Jun 2014

Do the size and age of mating plugs alter their efficacy in protecting paternity?

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Abstract

An obvious means to secure paternity is the production of a mating plug that blocks the female genital opening after mating. Although the mechanical efficacy and persistence of plugs on/in the female genital openings are key traits that determine the degree of paternity protection, these factors have hardly been explored. We therefore investigated the influence of the size of the amorphous plug material (experimentally terminated mating duration as a proxy) and age of the mating plug (time interval between copulations with two successive males) on the efficacy of the plug by analysing the mating success of subsequent males in the dwarf spider Oedothorax retusus (Linyphiidae: Erigoninae). Overall, subsequent males attempted to mate in 82 % of trials but only 32.5 % of these resulted in copulation, demonstrating that the plugs are effective safeguards against remating. Remating probability was significantly higher after previous short copulations (~small plug size) compared to long copulations (~large plug size). In the small plug group, fresh plugs (short remating intervals) were significantly less effective compared to older plugs. In the large plug group, remating probability was similarly low over all remating intervals. The observed copulations, however, do not necessarily result in sperm transfer, since sperm masses were found on the plugged female genital area. Our study on O. retusus shows that mating plugs are a powerful mechanical safeguard whose efficacy varies with plug size and age. We discuss these findings in the light of theoretical considerations on the evolution of effective mating plugs.

Communicated by M. Elgar