Sperm limitation produces male biased family sex ratios
Haplo-diploid sex determination in the parasitoid wasp, Nasonia vitripennis (Walker), allows females to adjust their brood sex ratios. Females influence whether ova are fertilized, producing diploid females, or remain unfertilized, producing haploid males. Females appear to adjust their brood sex ratios to minimize "local mate competition," i.e., competition among sons for mates. Because mating occurs between siblings, females may optimize mating opportunities for their offspring by producing only enough sons to inseminate daughters when ovipositing alone and producing more sons when superparasitism is likely. Although widely accepted, this hypothesis makes no assumptions about gamete limitation in either sex. Because sperm is used to produce daughters, repeated oviposition could reduce sperm supplies, causing females to produce more sons. In contrast, if egg-limited females produce smaller broods, they might use fewer sperm, making sperm limitation less likely. To investigate whether repeated oviposition and female fertility influence gamete limitation within females, we created two treatments of six mated female wasps, which received a series of six hosts at intervals of 24 or 48 hrs. All females produced at least one mixed-sex brood (63 total broods; 3,696 offspring). As expected, if females became sperm limited, in both treatments, brood sex ratios became increasingly male-biased with increasing host number. The interhost interval did not affect brood size, total offspring number or sex ratio, indicating females did not become egg limited. Our results support earlier studies showing sperm depletion affects sex allocation in N. vitripennis¸ and could limit adaptive sex ratio manipulation in these parasitoid wasps.