Sperm competition and the evolution of the sperm hook in house mice


Renée C. Firman, Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092), University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia.
Tel.: +61 8 6488 2699; fax: +61 8 6488 1029; e-mail: rcfirman@cyllene.uwa.edu.au


Sperm morphology varies considerably both between and within species. The sperm of many muroid rodents bear an apical hook at the proximal end of the head. The curvature of the sperm hook varies greatly across species, however the adaptive significance of the sperm hook is currently not known. In wood mice the apical hooks intertwine to form sperm ‘trains’, which exhibit faster swimming velocities than single cells. Thus, it has been suggested that if sperm ‘trains’ were advantageous in a competitive situation, then the apical sperm hook might be an evolutionary product of selection via sperm competition. A comparative study of rodent species provided support for the hypothesis, and showed that species with higher levels of sperm competition had more reflected sperm hooks. Here, we tested this hypothesis at the intraspecific level. We quantified sperm hook morphology from seven house mouse populations, and found that interpopulation variation in hook curvature was not explained by variation in sperm competition risk. Furthermore, observations of ejaculated sperm revealed that sperm groups are not a common characteristic of mouse ejaculates. We suggest that selection for sperm attachment to the oviduct epithelium, and thus better retainment of sperm fertilizing potential, may provide a more general explanation of the evolutionary relationship between sperm competition risk and the curvature of the sperm hook among rodents, and provide a phylogenetic comparison among rodent species that supports our hypothesis.