Sperm competition and the evolution of sperm midpiece volume in mammals


All correspondence to: Dr M. J. Anderson E-mail: manderson@sandiegozoo.org


Sperm competition occurs when the gametes of two, or more, males compete for opportunities to fertilize a given set of ova. This study examined whether mammalian sperm morphology could be affected by sexual selection. Comparisons were made of linear and volumetric measurements of the sperm head, midpiece and flagellum for 123 species representing 71 genera of mammals having either single partner mating systems or multiple partner mating systems. Sperm midpiece volume was found to be significantly larger in those species were females mate with more than one male during a single peri-ovulatory period. A positive correlation was also found between relative testes sizes and sperm midpiece volumes, while no relationship was found with any other sperm measure. These results indicate that, within mammals, the evolution of sperm midpiece volume has been affected by selection pressures resulting from sperm competition. The significance of these findings may relate to the density of mitochondria within the sperm midpiece. The mitochondria provide the energy required for sperm motility, in the absence of glycolytic support. A higher mitochondrial loading may therefore be associated with enhanced sperm motility.