Unequal investment by different sexes in their progeny is common and includes differential investment in the zygote and differential care of the young. The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum has a sexual stage in which isogamous cells of any two of the three mating types fuse to form a zygote which then attracts hundreds of other cells to the macrocyst. The latter cells are cannibalized and so make no genetic contribution to reproduction. Previous literature suggests that this sacrifice may be induced in cells of one mating type by cells of another, resulting in a higher than expected production of macrocysts when the inducing type is rare and giving a reproductive advantage to this social cheat. We tested this hypothesis in eight trios of field-collected clones of each of the three D. discoideum mating types by measuring macrocyst production at different pairwise frequencies. We found evidence that supported differential contribution in only two of the 24 clone pairs, so this pattern is rare and clone-specific. In general, we did not reject the hypothesis that the mating types contribute cells relative to their proportion in the population. We also found a significant quadratic relationship between partner frequency and macrocyst production, suggesting that when one clone is rare, macrocyst production is limited by partner availability. We were also unable to replicate previous findings that macrocyst production could be induced in the absence of a compatible mating partner. Overall, mating type-specific differential investment during sex is unlikely in microbial eukaryotes like D. discoideum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)926-937
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • altruism
  • Amoebozoa
  • isogamy
  • mating type
  • sexual cannibalism
  • sexual selection
  • social amoeba


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