Assortative Mating Drives Linkage Disequilibrium between Sperm and Egg Recognition Protein Loci in the Sea Urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

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Sperm and eggs have interacting proteins on their surfaces that influence their compatibility during fertilization. These proteins are often polymorphic within species, producing variation in gamete affinities. We first demonstrate the fitness consequences of various sperm bindin protein (Bindin) variants in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and assortative mating between males and females based on their sperm Bindin genotype. This empirical finding of assortative mating based on sperm Bindin genotype could arise by linkage disequilibrium (LD) between interacting sperm and egg recognition loci. We then examine sequence variation in eight exons of the sea urchin egg receptor for sperm Bindin (EBR1). We find little evidence of LD among the eight exons of EBR1, yet strong evidence for LD between sperm Bindin and EBR1 overall, and varying degrees of LD between sperm Bindin among the eight exons. We reject the alternate hypotheses of LD driven by shared evolutionary histories, population structure, or close physical linkage between these interacting loci on the genome. The most parsimonious explanation for this pattern of LD is that it represents selection driven by assortative mating based on interactions among these sperm and egg loci. These findings indicate the importance of ongoing sexual selection in the maintenance of protein polymorphisms and LD, and more generally highlight how LD can be used as an indication of current mate choice, as opposed to historic selection.

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