Colourful male guppies produce faster and more viable sperm


Andrea Pilastro, Department of Biology, University of Padova, Via U. Bassi 58/B, I-35131 Padova, Italy.
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In guppies (Poecilia reticulata) precopulatory sexual selection (via female choice) and post-copulatory selection (via sperm competition) both favour males with relatively high levels of carotenoid (orange) pigmentation, suggesting that colourful males produce more competitive ejaculates. Here we test whether there is a positive association between male orange pigmentation and sperm quality. Our analysis of sperm quality focused on sperm swimming speeds (using CASA: computer-assisted sperm analysis to estimate three parameters of sperm velocity in vitro), sperm viability (proportion of live sperm per stripped ejaculate) and sperm lengths. We found that males with relatively large areas of orange pigmentation had significantly faster and more viable sperm than their less ornamented counterparts, suggesting a possible link between dietary carotenoid intake and sperm quality. By contrast, we found no relationship between sperm length (head length and total sperm length) and male phenotype. These findings, in conjunction with previous work showing that highly ornamented male guppies sire higher quality offspring, suggest that female preference for colourful males and sperm competition work in concert to favour intrinsically higher quality males.