Diversity in mating behavior of hermaphroditic and male-female Caenorhabditis nematodes.
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In this study, we addressed why Caenorhabditis elegans males are inefficient at fertilizing their hermaphrodites. During copulation, hermaphrodites generally move away from males before they become impregnated. C. elegans hermaphrodites reproduce by internal self-fertilization, so that copulation with males is not required for species propagation. The hermaphroditic mode of reproduction could potentially relax selection for genes that optimize male mating behavior. We examined males from hermaphroditic and gonochoristic (male-female copulation) Caenorhabditis species to determine if they use different sensory and motor mechanisms to control their mating behavior. Instead, we found through laser ablation analysis and behavioral observations that hermaphroditic C. briggsae and gonochoristic C. remanei and Caenorhabditis species 4, PB2801 males produce a factor that immobilizes females during copulation. This factor also stimulates the vulval slit to widen, so that the male copulatory spicules can easily insert. C. elegans and C. briggsae hermaphrodites are not affected by this factor. We suggest that sensory and motor execution of mating behavior have not significantly changed among males of different Caenorhabditis species; however, during the evolution of internal self-fertilization, hermaphrodites have lost the ability to respond to the male soporific-inducing factor.