In vitro fertilization experiments using sockeye salmon reveal that bigger eggs are more fertilizable under sperm limitation

Christopher P. Macfarlane, Drew J. Hoysak, N. Robin Liley, Matthew J. G. Gage

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Although theory and widespread evidence show that the evolution of egg size is driven primarily by offspring and maternal fitness demands, an additional explanation invokes sperm limitation as a selective force that could also influence egg size optima. Levitan proposed that constraints from gamete encounter in external fertilization environments could select for enlargement of ova to increase the physical size of the fertilization target. We test this theory using in vitro fertilization experiments in an externally fertilizing fish. Sockeye salmon (Onchorhyncus nerka) females show considerable between-individual variation in ovum size, and we explored the consequences of this natural variation for the fertilization success of individual eggs under conditions of sperm limitation. By engineering consistent conditions where in vitro fertilization rate was always intermediate, we were able to compare the sizes of fertilized and unfertilized eggs across 20 fertilization replicates. After controlling for any changes in volume through incubation, results showed that successfully fertilized eggs were significantly larger than the eggs that failed to achieve fertilization. Under conditions without sperm limitation, fertility was unaffected by egg size. Our findings therefore support Levitan's theory, demonstrating empirically that some element of egg size variation could be selected by fertilization demands under sperm limitation. However, further research on sperm limitation in natural spawnings is required to assess the selective importance of these results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2503-2507
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1666
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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