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Keywords:

  • ejaculate evolution;
  • foam gland;
  • Japanese quail;
  • post-copulatory sexual selection;
  • seminal fluid proteins;
  • sperm competition

Abstract

Sperm competition is a powerful and widespread evolutionary force that drives the divergence of behavioural, physiological and morphological traits. Elucidating the mechanisms governing differential fertilization success is a fundamental question of sperm competition. Both sperm and nonsperm ejaculate components can influence sperm competition outcomes. Here, we investigate the role of a nonsemen copulatory fluid in sperm competition. Male Japanese quail possess a gland that makes meringue-like foam. Males produce and store foam independent of sperm and seminal fluid, yet transfer foam to females during copulation. We tested whether foam influenced the outcome of sperm competition by varying foam state and mating order in competitive matings. We found that the presence of foam from one male decreased the relative fertilization success of a rival, and that foam from a given male increased the probability he obtained any fertilizations. Mating order also affected competitive success. Males mated first fertilized proportionally more eggs in a clutch and had more matings with any fertilizations than subsequent males. We conclude that the function of foam in sperm competition is mediated through the positive interaction of foam with a male's sperm, and we speculate whether the benefit is achieved through improving sperm storage, fertilizing efficiency or retention. Our results suggest males can evolve complex strategies to gain fertilizations at the expense of rivals as foam, a copulatory fluid not required for fertilization, nevertheless, has important effects on reproductive performance under competition.