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Reproductive biology of a small isopod symbiont living on a large isopod host: from the maternal marsupium to the protective grip of guarding males
Thiel, M. (2002). Reproductive biology of a small isopod symbiont living on a large isopod host: from the maternal marsupium to the protective grip of guarding males. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 141(1): 175-183.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162; e-ISSN 1432-1793, more
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  • Thiel, M.

    Mating systems of many symbiotic crustaceans are characterised by a high degree of mate guarding. A peculiar case of mate guarding has been reported for small symbiotic janirid isopods where males mate with immature females. Field samples of individual hosts and laboratory experiments were conducted to reveal the mating behaviour of the symbiont in a natural environment, that is, on their hosts. Along the coast of the Magellan Strait, Chile, the janirid isopod Iais pubescens was frequently found on the shore-living isopod Exosphaeroma gigas. Symbiont prevalence (percent hosts occupied) was high at eight of the nine sampling sites. Mean symbiont intensity was very low at one site (<<1 individual host–1), intermediate at two sites (1–10 individuals host–1) and high at the other sites (10–40 individuals host–1). The mean sex ratio (males:females) was male biased at most sampling sites (n=7). Females of I. pubescens reached substantially larger sizes (1.5–3.0 mm body length, BL) than males (1.1–1.9 mm BL). The majority of males were carrying small juveniles (66.15%), and males with juveniles were significantly larger than males without juveniles – this suggests that males prefer virgin juveniles to adult females and that they compete for small juveniles. In laboratory observations, males were seen to manipulate the marsupium of adult females that were about to release small juveniles. Males obtained virgin juveniles in this manner. Juveniles were carried for ~7 days, and they moulted shortly before being fertilised and released by males. The high proportion of juveniles carried by males in the field (68.2%) supports previous observations that males initially are not able to distinguish male and female juveniles. It is suggested that the mating system of symbiotic janirid isopods with long-term sperm storage and continuous receptivity in females and male mating with virgin females has evolved in response to highly unpredictable encounter probabilities between the sexes. Mate guarding and manipulation of small virgin juveniles may be favoured on the highly mobile hosts of symbiotic janirid isopods. Furthermore, adult females may gain by leaving their emerging offspring in the protective grip of guarding males, thereby reinforcing the maintenance of this peculiar mating system.

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