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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 May 7;276(1662):1705-11. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1878. Epub 2009 Feb 25.

Plastic responses of male Drosophila melanogaster to the level of sperm competition increase male reproductive fitness.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ, UK.


Evolutionary and plastic responses by males to the level of sperm competition (SC) are reported across widespread taxa, but direct tests of the consequences for male reproductive success in a competitive context are lacking. We varied male perception of SC to examine the effect on male competitive reproductive success and to test whether the outcomes were as predicted by theory. Exposure to rival males prior to mating increased a male's ejaculate investment (measured as mating duration); by contrast, exposure to rival males in the mating arena decreased mating duration. The results therefore suggested that SC intensity is important in shaping male responses to SC in this system, although the patterns were not strictly in accord with existing theory. We then tested whether males that responded to the level of SC had higher reproductive fitness in a competitive context. We found that males kept with rivals prior to mating again mated for longer; furthermore, they achieved significantly higher paternity share regardless of whether they were the first or second males to mate with a female. The plastic strategies employed by males therefore resulted in significantly increased reproductive success in a competitive context, even following subsequent rematings in which the majority of sperm were displaced.

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