Fisher vs. the Worms: Extraordinary Sex Ratios in Nematodes and the Mechanisms that Produce Them

Cells. 2021 Jul 15;10(7):1793. doi: 10.3390/cells10071793.

Abstract

Parker, Baker, and Smith provided the first robust theory explaining why anisogamy evolves in parallel in multicellular organisms. Anisogamy sets the stage for the emergence of separate sexes, and for another phenomenon with which Parker is associated: sperm competition. In outcrossing taxa with separate sexes, Fisher proposed that the sex ratio will tend towards unity in large, randomly mating populations due to a fitness advantage that accrues in individuals of the rarer sex. This creates a vast excess of sperm over that required to fertilize all available eggs, and intense competition as a result. However, small, inbred populations can experience selection for skewed sex ratios. This is widely appreciated in haplodiploid organisms, in which females can control the sex ratio behaviorally. In this review, we discuss recent research in nematodes that has characterized the mechanisms underlying highly skewed sex ratios in fully diploid systems. These include self-fertile hermaphroditism and the adaptive elimination of sperm competition factors, facultative parthenogenesis, non-Mendelian meiotic oddities involving the sex chromosomes, and environmental sex determination. By connecting sex ratio evolution and sperm biology in surprising ways, these phenomena link two "seminal" contributions of G. A. Parker.

Keywords: local mate competition; meiosis; nematodes; sex ratio; sperm competition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nematoda / metabolism*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sex Ratio*
  • Spermatozoa / cytology