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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Mar 22;267(1443):531-4.

Sperm velocity and longevity trade off each other and influence fertilization in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus.

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  • 1Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee 32306-1100, USA.


The theoretical prediction that fast sperm should be more effective at fertilizing eggs has never been documented empirically. Interspecific comparisons suggest an inverse relationship between sperm velocity and sperm longevity but this trade-off has never been demonstrated within a species. Here I investigate how sperm velocity and sperm longevity influence the patterns of fertilization in the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus. In the laboratory I examined 11 male female pairs of sea urchins for variation in sperm velocity and sperm longevity, and determined the correlations of these traits with the percentage of eggs fertilized with serially diluted sperm. Males with faster sperm had higher rates of fertilization than males with slower sperm. Within individual males, as sperm aged they slowed down and showed a reduced percentage activity and lower rates of fertilization. Across males, the average velocity of freshly spawned sperm was inversely related to sperm longevity. These results establish the possibility that sperm traits are adapted for varying conditions along a continuum from sperm limitation to sperm competition.

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