10:07pm Friday 15 December 2017

Dying for sex – extreme mammal habits

Dr Diana Fisher from the School of Biological Sciences has led research confirming some small insect-eating marsupials such as antechinus escalate stress hormones during the breeding season which leads to total immune system collapse, haemorrhaging, infections, and death after mating in all males.

“These species experience extreme sexual behaviour, sexual conflict, female and male promiscuity, dramatic death, and synchronized suicide in males,” Dr Fisher said.

“Our investigations show that rather than altruism, individual sexual selection leads to apparent self-sacrifice in these mammals.”

Dr Fisher said the research resolved the environmental drivers and adaptive mechanism of sexual selection responsible for the repeated evolution of this surprising and extreme life history strategy in mammals.

“The strategy of programmed suicidal reproduction in mammals is often initially incomprehensible to both scientific and non-scientific audiences,” she said.

“Popular audiences and even some scientists have often attributed male death before offspring are born to paternal suicide to avoid food depletion.”

Males gain a reproductive advantage from death in a manner parallel to suicidal mating in some spiders.

“Males compete by sperm competition,” Dr Fisher said.

“Males with larger testes and better endurance succeed. Females benefit by promoting this extreme sperm competition, because the highest-quality males father their young.”

Media: Dr Diana Fisher, UQ School of Biological Sciences ARC Research Fellow, +61 7 3346 9004 or +61 43 506 6011, d.fisher@uq.edu.au

The research paper can be obtained from: Tracey Franchi, UQ School of Biological Sciences Communications Manager, +61 7 3365 4831, t.franchi@uq.edu.au

About the UQ School of Biological Sciences

Through research undertaken in the School, UQ has been ranked by the 2012 National Taiwan University Rankings in the top five universities globally for research in ecology and environmental biology and in the top 18 universities globally for plant and animal biology. The UQ School of Biological Sciences attracts researchers of world standing in a range of disciplines, with international leaders in many diverse fields. Our work spans the scales of biological organisation, from molecules and cells to organisms, populations, species and communities. With more than 150 researchers working in evolution, global change biology, ecology, aquaculture, animal behaviour, physiology, entomology, zoology, botany, genomics, development and conservation biology, our researchers and graduate scientists are well-equipped to make a real difference in contributing to solving global problems.


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