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The perception of such a water-borne signal is sufficient to trigger the observed shift in sex allocation, i.e., a suppression of the female function, irrespective of the frequency of encounters with conspecifics.Under natural conditions, such a pheromone will favor partners' encounters and the adjustment of individual sex allocation according to the numbers of reproductive competitors and/or potential partners.This prediction relies on the assumption that hermaphrodites respond to group size and adjust their sexual investment accordingly.Also gonochorists, under local mate competition (Hamilton, 1967), adjust their offspring sex ratio according to the number of fertilized females in the local group.Under more dense social conditions, hermaphrodites diminish their female allocation, in favor of the male sex, to respond to the sperm competition caused by the presence of rivals and by the enhanced mating opportunities (Lorenzi et al., in press).However, the resources subtracted from the female function are not entirely shifted to sperm production but probably also to other aspects of the male function (e.g., direct competition with rivals for fertilization) (Lorenzi MC, personal communication), and they do not affect the growth of mature hermaphrodites (Lorenzi et al., in press).

It has been suggested that the ability of organisms to assess relevant cues about their environment may be a major factor constraining the extent to which individuals adaptively adjust sex allocation (West and Sheldon, 2002).However, despite their fundamental importance, very few studies have investigated the cues, of whatever nature, that individuals use to assess relevant factors about their environment (Keller, 2004; Shuker and West, 2004), and in particular, none have investigated hermaphrodites' cues.We know that chemical cues are used in reproduction by various aquatic animals.However, no paper, to our knowledge, has addressed the question of the cues that hermaphrodites use to assess their social environment, although simple decision-making mechanisms are expected.The hermaphroditic polychaete worm is an excellent model system to test the mechanisms underlying sex allocation adjustment.

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