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The ecological and evolutionary consequences of sperm chemoattraction.


ABSTRACT: Chemical communication between sperm and egg is a critical factor mediating sexual reproduction. Sperm attractants may be significant evolutionarily for maintaining species barriers, and important ecologically for increasing gamete encounters. Still unresolved, however, are the functional consequences of these dissolved signal molecules. Here, we provide experimental evidence that sperm chemoattraction directly affects the magnitude of fertilization success. The recent discovery of L-tryptophan as a potent attractant to red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) sperm affords the opportunity to quantify how navigation affects gamete interactions. Sperm behavioral responses to manipulations of the natural tryptophan gradient around individual eggs reveals that both chemotaxis and chemokinesis significantly promote contacts. Our results show further that attractant release by means of diffusion effectively doubles the target size of red abalone eggs, which in turn significantly increases fertilization success. Although long theorized as potential barriers to hybridization, species-specific sperm attractants in red and green (Haliotis fulgens) abalone are only minor contributors to maintaining reproductive isolation. Because abalone typically live in dense, multispecies aggregations, chemically mediated navigation would prevent sperm from pointlessly tracking heterospecific eggs. Thus, even though reproductive isolation fundamentally resides at the level of membrane recognition proteins, species-specific sperm attractants may evolve to locate the right target within mixed gamete suspensions of closely related species.

SUBMITTER: Riffell JA 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC384776 | BioStudies | 2004-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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