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Sperm competition in horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus)

Abstract

Male horseshoe crabs have two mating tactics. Some males come ashore attached to a female (clasping the posterior margin of the females' carapace with their modified pedipalps) and nest with her on the intertidal portion of the beach during the high tide. Other males come ashore unattached and crowd around nesting couples. Fertilization is external and unattached males that are in contact with a pair, i.e. ‘satellite’ males, release sperm, so the assumption has been that they are fertilizing eggs. We conducted a paternity analysis to determine the proportion of eggs fertilized by attached and satellite males. Pairs with one satellite were observed during nesting on beaches in Florida and Delaware and their eggs were collected and reared to the late trilobite or first instar horseshoe crab stage. DNA was extracted from these offspring and from each adult (female, attached and satellite male) for use in paternity analysis. A Limulus-specific hypervariable microsatellite locus was identified and primers were constructed to amplify this locus via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Genotypes of putative parents and offspring were determined by resolving length variants of these PCR products on acrylamide gels. This allowed us to determine parentage of the offspring. We demonstrate that satellite males fertilized 40% of the eggs on average, attached males fertilized 51% and 4% of the eggs that were laid by the female were fathered neither by the attached male nor by the satellite (and 5% could not be determined unambiguously). There is high variability in the success of satellite males, ranging from 0 to 88%. Part of this variability can be explained by the position of the satellite relative to the attached male. We discuss the mechanics of fertilization and the possible advantages for multiple mating in this species.

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Communicated by R. Gibson

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Brockmann, H.J., Colson, T. & Potts, W. Sperm competition in horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 35, 153–160 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00167954

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Key words

  • Horseshoe crabs
  • Limulus polyphemus
  • Satellite males
  • DNA paternity analysis
  • Sperm competition