High levels of multiple paternity in a spermcast mating
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Multiple paternity is an important characteristic of the genetic mating system and common across a wide range of taxa. Multiple paternity can increase within-population genotypic diversity, allowing selection to act on a wider spectre of genotypes, and potentially increasing effective population size. While the genetic mating system has been studied in many species with active mating behavior, little is known about multiple paternity in sessile species releasing gametes into the water. In freshwater mussels, males release sperm into the water, while eggs are retained and fertilized inside the female (spermcast mating). Mature parasitic glochidia are released into the water and attach to the gills of fish where they are encapsulated until settling in the bottom substrate. We used 15 microsatellite markers to detect multiple paternity in a wild population of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera). We found multiple paternity in all clutches for which more than two offspring were genotyped, and numbers of sires were extremely high. Thirty-two sires had contributed to the largest clutch (43 offspring sampled). This study provides the first evidence of multiple paternity in the freshwater pearl mussel, a species that has experienced dramatic declines across Europe. Previous studies on other species of freshwater mussels have detected much lower numbers of sires. Multiple paternity in freshwater pearl mussels may be central for maintaining genetic variability in small and fragmented populations and for their potential to recover after habitat restoration and may also be important in the evolutionary arms race with their fish host with a much shorter generation time.