Hermaphroditism as a reproductive strategy for metazoans; some correlated benefits
Abstract The concept of hermaphroditism is examined, the terminology is reviewed, and several new terms are proposed: EUHERMAPHRODITISM for the occurrence together of eggs and sperm in the individual that produced them; TEMPORARY HERMAPHRODITISM for the few instances where euhermaphroditism is a brief transitional phase between sexes in protandry and protogyny, and opsiautogamy to designate the condition where sperm saved from an early male phase are used to fertilise eggs produced in a later female phase. An animal that functions successively in the different sex roles is considered to be quite distinct from one that functions as both male and female simultaneously. Further, the circumstances in which these different sexual modes are appropriate and the advantages that accrue from them are quite different. For this reason protandry, protogyny, and consecutive sexuality are not considered to be part of hermaphroditism, but rather aspects of labile gonochorism. A major idea advanced in this paper is that hermaphroditism is of primary importance as a reproductive strategy of very small metazoans. In such animals, whose eggs are so disproportionately large that very few can be produced, hermaphroditism ensures that through having the maximal number of females the maximal number of eggs are produced and fertilised economically. For very small hermaphrodites the mate-finding difficulties associated with small size and limited motility are reduced by converting each meeting into a potential mating. Further, in hermaphroditism not only is the frequency of mating maximised. but through sperm storage the effects of matings last for a long time. and through multiple reciprocal copulations genetically diverse progenies are produced. The effective size of the gene pool is maximised, and the risk of genetic drift in sex ratio in small populations is avoided. Very small animals do not have the energetic resources to produce large numbers of large, yolky eggs, nor do they have the space in which to store them before release. Thus tiny hermaphrodites tend to produce a few eggs at a time, but over extended or continuous breeding seasons. The effects of their reduced fecundity may be further offset by precise methods of fertilisation, brooding, and commonly the suppression of pelagic phases, thus minimising losses from larval predation and overdispersal. It is also argued that hermaphroditism may have been advantageous because of features often associated with it. Copulation with protected sperm transfer may have been especially important, not only because of economies in gamete production and use, but also in the exploitation of new habitats. In freshwater hermanhrodites copulatory or spermatophore exchange habits protect sperm from osmotic death: in endoparasites copulation protects sperm from digestive enzymes and osmotic stress in the host?s gut, and from antibodies and phagocytosis in the bloodstream.