Structural complexity and molecular heterogeneity of a butterfly ejaculate reflect a complex history of selection [Evolution]
Male ejaculates are often structurally complex, and this complexity is likely to influence key reproductive interactions between males and females. However, despite its potential evolutionary significance, the molecular underpinnings of ejaculate structural complexity have received little empirical attention. To address this knowledge gap, we sought to understand the biochemical and functional properties of the structurally complex ejaculates of Pieris rapae butterflies. Males in this species produce large ejaculates called spermatophores composed of an outer envelope, an inner matrix, and a bolus of sperm. Females are thought to benefit from the nutrition contained in the soluble inner matrix through increases in longevity and fecundity. However, the indigestible outer envelope of the spermatophore delays female remating, allowing males to monopolize paternity for longer. Here, we show that these two nonsperm-containing spermatophore regions, the inner matrix and the outer envelope, differ in their protein composition and functional properties. We also reveal how these divergent protein mixtures are separately stored in the male reproductive tract and sequentially transferred to the female reproductive tract during spermatophore assembly. Intriguingly, we discovered large quantities of female-derived proteases in both spermatophore regions shortly after mating, which may contribute to spermatophore digestion and hence, female control over remating rate. Finally, we report evidence of past selection on these spermatophore proteins and female proteases, indicating a complex evolutionary history. Our findings illustrate how structural complexity of ejaculates may allow functionally and/or spatially associated suites of proteins to respond rapidly to divergent selective pressures, such as sexual conflict or reproductive cooperation.
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