• fish;
  • heterozygosity;
  • reproduction;
  • sexual selection;
  • sperm competition;
  • testicular melanization

Mating between relatives often results in inbreeding depression, and is assumed to have a strong effect on fitness traits such as fertility and gonad/gamete quality. However, data concerning this topic are contradictory and particularly scarce in fishes. Three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) show inbreeding depression in fertilization and hatching success, survival rates, body symmetry and behavioural traits. To date, any knowledge of the impact of inbreeding on males' gonads and gametes is lacking in this species. In the present study, testis and sperm traits were quantified in outbred and inbred males. Overall, these traits were not generally impaired by inbreeding, and this result was not changed by a second/third generation of brother–sister matings. However, testes brightness, a potential measure of oxidative stress, was negatively correlated with sperm number. Additionally, inbred males with higher body condition had significantly brighter testes, whereas their sperm number was significantly negatively correlated with sperm quality (as estimated by head volume). Such a trade-off did not appear in outbred males. The comparatively small impact of inbreeding on testis and sperm traits might be explained by the low number of inbred individuals that reached the reproductive phase. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 107, 510–520.