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New study finds females play active, pivotal role in postcopulatory processes

Posted June 11, 2013
This image shows sperm of two males within the reproductive tract of a female fruit fly. Credit: Stefan Lupold, Syracuse University

This image shows sperm of two males within the reproductive tract of a female fruit fly. Credit: Stefan Lupold, Syracuse University

Females play a larger role in determining paternity than previously thought, say biologists in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Their findings are the subject of a new paper titled “Female mediation of competitive fertilization success in Drosophila melanogaster,” published this month by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Stefan Lüpold, a research assistant professor in the college’s Department of Biology and the paper’s lead author, says the findings have major implications for the study of sexual selection, sexual conflict and the coevolution of male and female reproductive traits. “Our studies show that female flies don’t just provide a static arena for sperm competition; they also influence who fathers their offspring,” says Lüpold, a member of the Pitnick Lab, where the research took place. “This is indicated by various means, including the re-mating interval; progeny production rate; sperm-storage organ morphology; and the way females store and use sperm.”

“Female mediation” was co-authored by Lüpold; Scott Pitnick and John Belote, biology professors at SU; Kirstin S. Berben, a SU lab technician; Mollie K. Manier, a SU research associate; and Cecilia S. Blengini, a Ph.D. student at the National University of Córdoba (Argentina), who worked in the Pitnick Lab for several months during the experiment.

Understanding postcopulatory sexual selection has traditionally been difficult, due to the challenge of observing events within the reproductive tracts of internally fertilizing species—from those in organisms as small as a Drosophila fly to as large as a human. Discriminating sperm from different males also clouds the issue.

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