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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Sep 16;105(37):13947-52. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803067105. Epub 2008 Sep 8.

Multiple deleterious effects of experimentally aged sperm in a monogamous bird.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Fonctionnement et Evolution des Systèmes Ecologiques, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005 Paris, France.


Sperm aging is known to be detrimental to reproductive performance. However, this apparently general phenomenon has seldom been studied in an evolutionary context. The negative impact of sperm aging on parental fitness should constitute a strong selective pressure for adaptations to avoid its effects. We studied the impact of sperm aging on black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), a monogamous seabird. Kittiwakes comprise a model system because (i) of evidence that females eject their mates' sperm to prevent fertilization by sperm that would be old and degraded by the time of fertilization and result in reduced reproductive performance and (ii) the lack of extra-pair fertilization in this species makes cryptic female choice an unlikely explanation of postcopulatory sperm ejection by females. We experimentally manipulated the age of the sperm fertilizing kittiwake eggs by fitting males with anti-insemination rings for variable periods of time preceding egg-laying. We found evidence that sperm aging negatively affected four sequential stages of reproduction: fertilization potential, rate of embryonic development, embryonic mortality, and chick condition at hatching. These results may be produced by a continuum of a single process of sperm aging that differentially affects various aspects of development, depending on the degree of damage incurred to the spermatozoa. The marked impact of sperm age on female fitness may thus drive postcopulatory sperm ejection by females. These results provide experimental evidence of deleterious effects of sperm aging on a nondomestic vertebrate, underlining its taxonomic generality and its potential to select for a wide array of adaptations.

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