Hidden female physiological resistance to male accessory gland substances in a simultaneous hermaphrodite

  • Lodi M
  • Koene J
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Abstract

To increase fertilization chances compared with rivals, males are favoured to transfer accessory gland proteins to females during mating. These substances, by influencing female physiology, cause alteration of her sperm usage and remating rate. Simultaneously hermaphroditic land snails with love-darts are a case in point. During courtship, a love-dart is pierced through the partner's body wall, thereby introducing accessory mucous gland products. This mucus physiologically increases paternity by inhibiting the digestion of donated sperm. The sperm, which are packaged in a spermatophore, are exchanged and received in an organ called the diverticulum. Because of its length, this organ was previously proposed to be a female anatomical adaptation that may limit the dart interference with the recipient's sperm usage. For reproductive success of the donor, an anatomically long spermatophore, relative to the partner's diverticulum, is beneficial as sperm can avoid digestion by exiting through the spermatophore's tail safely. However, the snail Eobania vermiculata possesses a diverticulum that is three times longer than the spermatophore it receives. Here, we report that the love-dart mucus of this species contains a contraction-inducing substance that shortens the diverticulum, an effect that is only properly revealed when the mucus is applied to another helicid species, Cornu aspersum. This finding suggests that E. vermiculata may have evolved a physiological resistance to the manipulative substance received via the love-dart by becoming insensitive to it. This provides useful insight into the evolution of female resistance to male manipulations, indicating that it can remain hidden if tested on a single species.

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Lodi, M., & Koene, J. M. (2017). Hidden female physiological resistance to male accessory gland substances in a simultaneous hermaphrodite. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(6), 1026–1031. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.149963

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