Postcopulatory adaptations that increase reproductive success compared to rivals, like the transfer of accessory gland products that promote paternity, are common when sperm competition occurs among males. In land snails, the dart shooting behavior and its adaptive significance, in promoting individual fitness through enhanced paternity of the successful dart shooter, have been considered such an adaptation. The fitness result gained is mediated by the transfer of mucus components on the love dart capable of altering the physiology of the receiver's reproductive tract. In this context, dart shooting and mucus transfer could be considered as processes targeted by sexual selection. While the effect of dart mucus is beneficial for the dart user, so far it has remained unknown whether its transport is greater when snails experience a higher level of sperm competition. Here, we report results of a study on inter- and intraspecific variations of dart and mucus gland morphometry, considered to be traits reflecting the ability of snails to adjust the production and transfer of mucus under varying sperm competition scenarios. We investigated four populations with different densities from four dart-bearing species, Arianta arbustorum, Cepaea nemoralis, Cornu aspersum, and Helix lucorum. The results indicate that different adaptations of these traits occur among the studied species that all seem to achieve the same goal of transferring more mucus when sperm competition is higher. For example, the presence of longer and more branched mucous glands or an increase in dart surface most likely reflect increased mucus production and enhanced ability of mucus transport, respectively. Interestingly, the species for which the use of the dart is reported to be facultative, A. arbustorum, did not show any variation among the examined traits. To conclude, sexual selection in the form of sperm competition intensity seems to be an important selective force for these simultaneously hermaphroditic dart-bearing snails, driving differences in sexual traits.
- Journal Article