Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Reproductive Modes
One central questions in evolutionary biology concerns the evolution of reproductive modes and the identification of selective pressures favouring the expression of sexual functions in hermaphroditic and gonochoric animals. Hermaphroditism is favoured when the reproductive success is limited by rare mating opportunities; in contrast, when mating opportunities increase, specialization in one sexual role increases individual reproductive success.
In the model-genus Ophryotrocha of marine polychaetes both hermaphroditic and gonochoric species are present. Currently, in the Mediterranean harbour and lagoon habitats 5 gonochoric and 4 hermaphroditic Ophryotrocha species have been recognized. Gonochoric species are more common and have more dense populations than hermaphroditic ones, suggesting a possible relationship between reproductive model and ecological plasticity.
Our research aims to investigate reproductive plasticity in populations of the gonochoric and hermaphroditic Ophryotrocha species, starting from the hypothesis that gonochorism should be associated with a greater ability to cope with environmental factors than simultaneous hermaphroditism. Using genetic markers and by the analysis of the transcriptomes we gain information also on genes involved in sex determination of the two reproductive modes. The sequence information obtained would be directly profitable to monitor environmental stressors including pollutants and/or to produce recombinant proteins for future biotechnological applications.