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Keywords:

  • Multiple paternity;
  • Muridae;
  • polyandry;
  • sperm competition;
  • sperm morphology

Abstract

Sperm conjugation occurs when two or more sperm physically unite for motility or transport through the female reproductive tract. In many muroid rodent species, sperm conjugates have been shown to form by a single, conspicuous apical hook located on the sperm head. These sperm “trains” have been reported to be highly variable in size and, despite all the heads pointing in roughly the same direction, exhibit a relatively disordered arrangement. In some species, sperm “trains” have been shown to enhance sperm swimming speed, and thus have been suggested to be advantageous in sperm competition. Here, we assessed the behavior of sperm in the sandy inland mouse (Pseudomys hermannsburgensis), a muroid rodent that bears sperm with three apical hooks. First, we accrued genetic evidence of multiple paternity within “wild” litters to unequivocally show that sperm competition does occur in this species. Following this we utilized both in vitro and in vivo methodologies to determine whether sandy inland mouse sperm conjugate to form motile trains. Our observations of in vitro preparations of active sperm revealed that sandy inland mouse sperm exhibit rapid, progressive motility as individual cells only. Similarly, histological sections of the reproductive tracts of mated females revealed no in vivo evidence of sperm conjugate formation. We conclude that the unique, three-hooked morphology of the sandy inland mouse sperm does not facilitate the formation of motile conjugates, and discuss our findings in relation to the different hypotheses for the evolution of the muroid rodent hook/s.