Multiple paternity in superfetatious live-bearing fishes

Myrthe L. Dekker, Lisa M. van Son, Karen M. Leon-Kloosterziel, Andres Hagmayer, Andrew I. Furness, Johan L. van Leeuwen, Bart J.A. Pollux*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Superfetation, the ability to carry several overlapping broods at different developmental stages, has evolved independently multiple times within the live-bearing fish family Poeciliidae. Even though superfetation is widespread among poeciliids, its evolutionary advantages remain unclear. Theory predicts that superfetation should increase polyandry by increasing the probability that temporally overlapping broods are fertilized by different fathers. Here, we test this key prediction in two poeciliid species that each carry two temporally overlapping broods: Poeciliopsis retropinna and P. turrubarensis. We collected 25 females per species from freshwater streams in South-Eastern Costa Rica and assessed multiple paternity by genotyping all their embryos (420 embryos for P. retropinna; 788 embryos for P. turrubarensis) using existing and newly developed microsatellite markers. We observed a high frequency of unique sires in the simultaneous, temporally overlapping broods in P. retropinna (in 56% of the pregnant females) and P. turrubarensis (79%). We found that the mean number of sires within females was higher than the number of sires within the separate broods (2.92 sires within mothers vs. 2.36 within separate broods in P. retropinna; and 3.40 vs 2.56 in P. turrubarensis). We further observed that there were significant differences in the proportion of offspring sired by each male in 42% of pregnant female P. retropinna and 65% of female P. turrubarensis; however, this significance applied to only 9% and 46% of the individual broods in P. retropinna and P. turrubarensis, respectively, suggesting that the unequal reproductive success of sires (i.e. reproductive skew) mostly originated from differences in paternal contribution between, rather than within broods. Together, these findings tentatively suggest that superfetation may promote polyandry and reproductive skew in live-bearing fishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)948-961
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number7
Early online dateJul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Poeciliidae
  • Poeciliopsis
  • polyandry
  • pregnancy
  • reproductive skew
  • reproductive strategy
  • superfetation
  • viviparity


Dive into the research topics of 'Multiple paternity in superfetatious live-bearing fishes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this