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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Feb 7; 267(1440): 307–313.
PMCID: PMC1690520

The evolution of sperm length in moths.


Sperm form and function remain poorly understood despite being of fundamental biological importance. An instructive approach has been to examine evolutionary associations across comparable taxa between sperm characters and other, potentially selective reproductive traits. We adopt this approach here in a comparative study examining how sperm lengths are associated with male and female reproductive characters across moths. Primary data have revealed Lepidoptera to be an ideal order for examination: there is profound variation in the dimensions (but not organization) of the reproductive traits between closely related species which all share a monophyletic ancestry, for example, eupyrene sperm length varies from 110 to 12,675 microm. Eupyrene (normal fertilizing) and apyrene (anucleate and non-fertile) sperm lengths are positively correlated across taxa and both sperm types show positive associations with mating pattern (as measured by the residual testis size). At fertilization, eupyrene sperm must migrate down the often elongated female spermathecal duct from storage to unite with the ovum. Across taxa, the elongation of this duct is associated with increased eupyrene sperm length, suggesting a positive female influence on sperm size since longer, more powerful sperm may be selected to migrate and/or compete successfully down greater ductal lengths. Apyrene sperm length is not associated with female reproductive tract dimensions. However, we found a positive relationship between the residual testis volume and spermathecal volume, suggesting coevolution between male investment in spermatogenesis and the extent of the female sperm storage capacity. Within males, there is a positive association between the two organs which form the ejaculate-containing spermatophore: the testes and the accessory gland. The 'trade-up' in investment to these components is discussed in relation to paternal investment and mating patterns.

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Selected References

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Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society


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