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Keywords:

  • evolvability;
  • hemiclonal analysis;
  • heritability;
  • male–female coevolution;
  • sexual selection;
  • sperm morphometry

Abstract

Spermatozoa are the most diverse of all animal cells. Variation in size alone is enormous and yet there are still no clear evolutionary explanations that can account for such diversity. The basic genetics of sperm form is also poorly understood, although sperm size is known to have a strong genetic component. Here, using hemiclonal analysis of Drosophila melanogaster, we demonstrate that there is not only a significant additive genetic component contributing to phenotypic variation in sperm length but also a significant environmental effect. Furthermore, the plasticity of sperm size has a significant genetic component to it (a genotype × environment interaction). A genotype × environment interaction could contribute to the maintenance of the substantial genetic variation in this trait and thereby explain the persistent inter-male differences in sperm size seen in numerous taxa. We suggest that the low conditional dependence and high heritability but low evolvability (the coefficient of additive genetic variation) of sperm length is more consistent with a history of stabilizing selection rather than either sexual selection or strong directional selection.