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Keywords:

  • copulation duration;
  • mating behaviour;
  • multiple intromissions;
  • repeated ejaculation;
  • sexual conflict;
  • sexual selection

Abstract

The copulatory behaviour of male mammals is characterized by striking diversity in patterns of copulatory stimulation and ejaculation frequency. We conducted comparative analyses of rodents to investigate the potential influence of sperm competition in the evolution of copulatory behaviour. We found that increasing sperm competition is associated with faster rates of stimulation and earlier ejaculation among species in which males perform multiple intromissions prior to ejaculation, but with no overall change in the number of intromissions per ejaculation. Increasing sperm competition is also associated with a higher frequency of repeated ejaculations with the same female, and with shorter refractory periods between repeated copulations. Increasing sperm competition level thus appears to select for male ability to ejaculate more rapidly and more frequently with each female mated. As prolonged copulations are known to reduce female remating rates, these findings indicate that males may experience opposing selection pressures on copulatory behaviour with respect to offensive and defensive aspects of sperm competition. We conclude that sperm competition is likely to be an important selection pressure explaining diversity in mammalian copulatory behaviour.