Evolution of sperm quality but not quantity in the internally fertilized fish Xiphophorus nigrensis


Chad C. Smith, University of Texas at Austin, Section of Integrative Biology, Austin, TX 78712, USA.
Tel.: 512 475 6164; fax: 512 471 3878; e-mail: chadsmith@mail.utexas.edu


Abstract Species with alternative reproductive strategies are characterized by discrete differences among males in suites of traits related to competition for fertilizations. Models predict sneaker males should allocate more resources to their ejaculates because they experience sperm competition more frequently and often occupy a disfavoured ‘role’ owing to subordinance in intramale competition and female preferences for larger males. We examined whether sperm number and quality differed between male strategies in the internally fertilized fish Xiphophorus nigrensis and explored the relationship between sperm morphology and performance. We found sneaker males had similar testes sizes compared to courting males but ejaculates with both more viable and longer lived sperm. Sneaker sperm also had longer midpieces, which was positively correlated with both velocity and longevity. Our study suggests that the evolution of sperm quantity and quality can be decoupled and that the sperm morphology is likely to play an important role in mediating sperm competition through its effects on sperm performance.