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Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Oct 22;279(1745):4174-82. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1398. Epub 2012 Aug 15.

Distinct evolutionary patterns of morphometric sperm traits in passerine birds.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, , Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.


The striking diversity of sperm shape across the animal kingdom is still poorly understood. Postcopulatory sexual selection is an important factor driving the evolution of sperm size and shape. Interestingly, morphometric sperm traits, such as the length of the head, midpiece and flagellum, exhibit a strong positive phenotypic correlation across species. Here we used recently developed comparative methods to investigate how such phenotypic correlations between morphometric sperm traits may evolve. We compare allometric relationships and evolutionary trajectories of three morphometric sperm traits (length of head, midpiece and flagellum) in passerine birds. We show that these traits exhibit strong phenotypic correlations but that allometry varies across families. In addition, the evolutionary trajectories of the midpiece and flagellum are similar while the trajectory for head length differs. We discuss our findings in the light of three scenarios accounting for correlated trait evolution: (i) genetic correlation; (ii) concerted response to selection acting simultaneously on different traits; and (iii) phenotypic correlation between traits driven by mechanistic constraints owing to selection on sperm performance. Our results suggest that concerted response to selection is the most likely explanation for the phenotypic correlation between morphometric sperm traits.

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