Egg fertilisation in a freshwater mussel: effects of distance, flow and male density
1. Small or sparse populations can experience Allee effects if egg fertilisation is reduced because of a shortage of sperm.
2. Freshwater mussels are spermcasters that often occur as sparse, patchy populations. Previous studies suggested that sperm shortage limits these populations unless facultative hermaphroditism and selffertilisation occur at low density. We conducted experiments in ponds to examine fertilisation in the mussel, Lampsilis straminea, in response to flow, presence of and distance from males, male density, and the presence of upstream females that could compete for sperm with downstream females.
3. Self-fertilisation in the absence of males did not occur in either experiment. Female fertilisation success was uniformly high in most treatments and was not related to flow or distance from males (1–25 m). Fertilisation success was significantly lower at low male density (0.02 m-2, compared with 0.16 m-2) but remained relatively high even in most low male density treatments. The proportion of females that became gravid was higher in the presence of upstream females, but fecundity was significantly lower when upstream females were present; these conflicting results made it difficult to assess the role of competition among females for sperm.
4. Overall, high fertilisation success occurred at densities three orders of magnitude lower than previously proposed thresholds for mussels. Sperm dispersal and acquisition and egg fertilisation appear to be complex processes associated with adaptations for spermcasting. These adaptations are likely to facilitate persistence at low population density and buffer mussels from reproductive Allee effects