Sperm morphology, swimming velocity, and longevity in the house sparrow Passer domesticus

Helfenstein, Fabrice ; Podevin, Murielle ; Richner, Heinz

In: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2010, vol. 64, no. 4, p. 557-565

Add to personal list
    Sperm competition exerts strong selection on males to produce spermatozoa with an optimal morphology that maximizes their fertilization success. Long sperm were first suggested to be favored because they should swim faster. However, studies that investigated the relationship between sperm length and sperm competitive ability or sperm swimming velocity yielded contradictory results. More recently, ratios of the different sections of a spermatozoon (the head, midpiece, and flagellum) were suggested to be more crucial in determining swimming velocity. Additionally, sperm ability to remain and survive in the female storage organs may also influence fertilization success, so that optimal sperm morphology may rather maximize sperm longevity than velocity. In this study, we investigated how sperm morphology is related to sperm velocity and sperm longevity in the house sparrow Passer domesticus. Sperm velocity was found to be correlated with head/flagellum ratio. Sperm with small heads relative to their flagellum showed higher swimming velocity. Additionally, shorter sperm were found to live longer. Finally, we found sperm morphological traits to vary substantially within males and the head/flagellum ratio to be unrelated to total sperm length. We discuss the hypothesis that the substantial within-male variation in sperm morphology reflects a male strategy to produce a diversity of sperm from long, fast-swimming to short, long-living sperm to maximize their fertilization success in a context of sperm competition