Superior stimulation of female fecundity by subordinate males provides a mechanism for telegony.

04 May 2018

When females mate promiscuously, rival males compete to fertilise the ova. In theory, a male can increase his success at siring offspring by inducing the female to lay more eggs, as well as by producing more competitive sperm. Here we report that the evolutionary consequences of fecundity stimulation extend beyond rival males, by experimentally uncovering effects on offspring. With experiments on the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, we show that smaller subordinate males are better able to stimulate female fecundity than larger, dominant males. Furthermore dominant males also benefit from the greater fecundity induced by smaller males, and so gain from the female's earlier promiscuity - just as predicted by theory. By inducing females to produce more offspring on a limited resource, smaller males cause each larva to be smaller, even those they do not sire themselves. Fecundity stimulation thus promotes the non-genetic inheritance of offspring body size, and provides a mechanism for telegony.