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Reproduction. 2012 Nov;144(5):519-34. doi: 10.1530/REP-12-0285. Epub 2012 Sep 14.

Sperm wars and the evolution of male fertility.

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  • 1Centre for Evolutionary Biology, , School of Animal Biology (M092), The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia. leigh.simmons@uwa.edu.au

Abstract

Females frequently mate with several males, whose sperm then compete to fertilize available ova. Sperm competition represents a potent selective force that is expected to shape male expenditure on the ejaculate. Here, we review empirical data that illustrate the evolutionary consequences of sperm competition. Sperm competition favors the evolution of increased testes size and sperm production. In some species, males appear capable of adjusting the number of sperm ejaculated, depending on the perceived levels of sperm competition. Selection is also expected to act on sperm form and function, although the evidence for this remains equivocal. Comparative studies suggest that sperm length and swimming speed may increase in response to selection from sperm competition. However, the mechanisms driving this pattern remain unclear. Evidence that sperm length influences sperm swimming speed is mixed and fertilization trials performed across a broad range of species demonstrate inconsistent relationships between sperm form and function. This ambiguity may in part reflect the important role that seminal fluid proteins (sfps) play in affecting sperm function. There is good evidence that sfps are subject to selection from sperm competition, and recent work is pointing to an ability of males to adjust their seminal fluid chemistry in response to sperm competition from rival males. We argue that future research must consider sperm and seminal fluid components of the ejaculate as a functional unity. Research at the genomic level will identify the genes that ultimately control male fertility.

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