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Biol Lett. 2013 Dec 4;9(6):20130762. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0762. Print 2013.

Male-male competition leads to less abundant but more attractive sperm.

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  • 1Department of Ecological Science, Animal Ecology, VU University Amsterdam, , De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Males employ complex strategies to optimize their reproductive success when faced with male-male competition; for instance, they can adjust the ejaculate characteristics. In copulating species, a male may also strategically adjust his ejaculate expenditure according to female quality. Quantifying the relative contribution of ejaculate plasticity in male reproductive success is often difficult, especially when females exert postcopulatory cryptic choice. One way to quantify the functional significance of ejaculate plasticity is offered by mating systems in which the reproductive partners do not meet each other during insemination. In the collembolan Orchesella cincta, males deposit their ejaculates (spermatophores) irrespective of the presence of females. We tested whether Orchesella males adjust spermatophore number when exposed to the presence of another male and whether changes in spermatophore production influence female choice. We found that Orchesella males display plasticity in spermatophore allocation. Males decreased the spermatophore number when exposed to a rival male. Moreover, females preferentially took up spermatophores of males that were exposed to a competitor. The reduction in spermatophore number suggests, besides an adaptive response to the risk of ejaculate removal by rival males, an optimization strategy owing to the costs of more attractive spermatophores.


Collembola; ejaculate plasticity; female choice; indirect sperm transfer; sperm competition

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