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Male Mate Choice in a Natural Population of the Parasitic Copepod Lernaeocera Branchialis (Copepoda: Pennellidae)

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Variations in age and sex structure of a natural population of the copepod Lernaeocera branchialis, parasitic on flounder, Platichthys flesus were examined in a 15-month study. Recent laboratory studies and literature on reproductive strategies indicate that male mate choice in this species should depend on the sex ratios of the parasite on its hosts, and on the age and mating status of females. Sex ratios suggested a strong intra-male competition for females. The ratio of chalimus 4 and virgin adult females (preferred stages) to adult males exceeded 1 female: 4 males on 50% of the hosts. In four out of the six sampling periods, more than 50% of hosts harboured more adult males than the total number of females. The males preference for the different female stages was estimated from the number of precopula and copula associations. The data were fitted to a logistic regression model. At most sex ratios, males preferred chalimus 4 and virgin adult females, and discriminated against younger stages. Mated females were about as attractive as the youngest larval stages at female-biased sex ratios, but they were chosen more frequently at strongly male-biased sex ratios. Most adult L. branchialis females had copulated more than once, and some had accommodated at least 5 ejaculates in the their sperm storage organs. The patterns of mate guarding and potential for sperm competition strongly suggest that L. branchialis males take the intrasexual competition into account when choosing mates. On this basis, they minimize guarding time and maximize the possibility of paternity.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Section of Marine Zoology and Marine Chemistry, University of Oslo, P.O. box 1064 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway


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