INTRASPECIFIC VARIATION IN SPERM LENGTH IS NEGATIVELY RELATED TO SPERM COMPETITION IN PASSERINE BIRDS

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Abstract

Spermatozoa are among the most diversified cells in the animal kingdom, but the underlying evolutionary forces affecting intraspecific variation in sperm morphology are poorly understood. It has been hypothesized that sperm competition is a potent selection pressure on sperm variation within species. Here, we examine intraspecific variation in total sperm length of 22 wild passerine bird species (21 genera, 11 families) in relation to the risk of sperm competition, as expressed by the frequency of extrapair paternity and relative testis size. We demonstrate, by using phylogenetic comparative methods, that between-male variation in sperm length within species is closely and negatively linked to the risk of sperm competition. This relationship was even stronger when only considering species in which data on sperm length and extrapair paternity originated from the same populations. Intramale variation in sperm length within species was also negatively, although nonsignificantly, related to sperm competition risk. Our findings suggest that postcopulatory sexual selection is a powerful evolutionary force reducing the intraspecific phenotypic variation in sperm-size traits, potentially driving the diversification of sperm morphology across populations and species.

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