Open Access Open Badges Research article

Genetic and potential non-genetic benefits increase offspring fitness of polyandrous females in non-resource based mating system

Jukka Kekäläinen12*, Geir Rudolfsen3, Matti Janhunen4, Lars Figenschou3, Nina Peuhkuri5, Niina Tamper6 and Raine Kortet67

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35 (YAC-315.2), FI-40014 University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland

2 Ecological Research Institute, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 111, FI-80101 Joensuu, Finland

3 Department of Evolution and Ecology, Institute of Biology, University of Tromsø, N- 9037 Tromsø, Norway

4 Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, Joensuu Game and Fisheries Research, Yliopistonkatu 6, FI-80100 Joensuu, Finland

5 Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, Viikinkaari 4, P.O. Box 2, FI-00791 Helsinki, Finland

6 Department of Biology, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 111, FI-80101 Joensuu, Finland

7 Department of Biology, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 3000, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:20  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-20

Published: 22 January 2010



The adaptive significance of female polyandry is currently under considerable debate. In non-resource based mating systems, indirect, i.e. genetic benefits have been proposed to be responsible for the fitness gain from polyandry. We studied the benefits of polyandry in the Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) using an experimental design in which the material investments by the sires and maternal environmental effects were controlled.


Embryonic mortality showed a strong paternal genetic component, and it was lower in polyandrously fertilized offspring (sperm competition of two males) than in monandrous fertilizations. We also found that high sperm velocity was associated with low offspring mortality, but not with the size of the offspring or their yolk volume. Although no male effect was found on the size of the offspring yolk reserves, yolk volume was higher in offspring from polyandrous matings than offspring of the either of the two males when mated monandrously.


In support of the "good sperm hypothesis, we found that sperm velocity was positively associated with offspring fitness. In addition, our results suggest that polyandrous females gain genetic advantage (higher offspring survival) from this behavior, but that some benefits of polyandry (larger yolk volume) may not be explained solely by the additive genetic effects. This suggests that sperm competition environment may intensify the selection on genetically superior sperm which in turn may produce offspring that have superior yolk reserves. However, as high sperm velocity was not associated with larger yolk volume, it is possible that also some other non-genetic effects may contribute to offspring fitness. The potential role of polyandrous mating in inbreeding avoidance is discussed.