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Polyandry in the medfly - shifts in paternity mediated by sperm stratification and mixing

: Scolari, F.; Yuval, B.; Gomulski, L.M.; Schetelig, M.F.; Gabrieli, P.; Bassetti, F.; Wimmer, E.A.; Malacrida, A.R.; Gasperi, G.

Postprint (5.7 MByte; PDF; )

BMC genetics 15 (2014), Supplement 2, Art. S10, 8 pp.
ISSN: 1471-2156
Journal Article, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer IME ()


In the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly), Ceratitis capitata, a highly invasive agricultural pest species, polyandry, associated with sperm precedence, is a recurrent behaviour in the wild. The absence of tools for the unambiguous discrimination between competing sperm from different males in the complex female reproductive tract has strongly limited the understanding of mechanisms controlling sperm dynamics and use.


Here we use transgenic medfly lines expressing green or red fluorescent proteins in the spermatozoa, which can be easily observed and unambiguously differentiated within the female fertilization chamber. In twice-mated females, one day after the second mating, sperm from the first male appeared to be homogenously distributed all over the distal portion of each alveolus within the fertilization chamber, whereas sperm from the second male were clearly concentrated in the central portion of each alveolus. This distinct stratified sperm distribution was not maintained over time, as green and red sperm appeared homogeneously mixed seven days after the second mating. This dynamic sperm storage pattern is mirrored by the paternal contribution in the progeny of twice-mated females.


Polyandrous medfly females, unlike Drosophila, conserve sperm from two different mates to fertilize their eggs. From an evolutionary point of view, the storage of sperm in a stratified pattern by medfly females may initially favour the fresher ejaculate from the second male. However, as the second male's sperm gradually becomes depleted, the sperm from the first male becomes increasingly available for fertilization. The accumulation of sperm from different males will increase the overall genetic variability of the offspring and will ultimately affect the effective population size. From an applicative point of view, the dynamics of sperm storage and their temporal use by a polyandrous female may have an impact on the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Indeed, even if the female's last mate is sterile, an increasing proportion of sperm from a previous mating with a fertile male may contribute to sire viable progeny.