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Keywords:

  • body condition;
  • body size;
  • reptiles;
  • sexual selection;
  • sperm competition

Abstract

Sperm competition occurs when the sperm of more than one male compete to fertilize the eggs of a female. In reptiles, sperm competition is particularly prevalent and is an important agent of sexual selection in males. Spermatogenesis in reptiles can be energetically expensive, suggesting that there may be costs to producing high-quality ejaculates. The northern watersnake Nerodia sipedon has a mating system characterized by aggregations in which a single female mates with multiple males, resulting in high levels of multiple paternities. Under these circumstances sperm competition is likely important, and selection should favour sperm and ejaculate traits that enhance a male's reproductive success. In this study, we examined intraspecific variation in ejaculate quality (sperm length, motility, sperm density, spermactocrit) in male watersnakes and determined whether ejaculate traits varied with body size and condition, using both size-corrected mass and haematocrit as indices of condition. We found large variation among males in all these traits, except for sperm length. Although there was significant variation in sperm length among males, the majority of variation in sperm length occurred within rather than among individuals. Males with high haematocrit had sperm that were less variable with respect to length, and large males produced ejaculates that were less concentrated with respect to sperm than small males. The lack of condition dependence of most ejaculate traits is consistent with previous studies that indicate that male reproductive effort in this species is generally not energy limited, perhaps because of opportunistic foraging during the mating season.