Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 427-434

First online:

Sperm competition and variation in zebra mating behavior

  • J. R. GinsbergAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Princeton University
  • , D. I. RubensteinAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Princeton University

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Data are presented on the breeding behavior of two zebra species to test whether intra- and interspecific variation in male reproductive behavior and physiology are correlated with differences in female promiscuity. In one species, plains zebra (Equus burchelli) females live in closed membership single male groups and mate monandrously. In the other species, the Grevy's zebra (E. grevyi) females live in groups whose membership is much more temporary. Typically, associations with individual males are brief and mating is polyandrous. However, some females - those having just given birth — reside with one male for long periods, mating monandrously. These differences in female mating behavior generate variability in the potential for sperm competition. We show that behavioral differences in male investment in reproductive activities correlate with the potential for sperm competition. When mating with promiscuous mares, Grevy's zebra stallions made a greater investment in reproductive behavior (calling, mounting, ejaculations) than did stallions of either species when mating with monandrous females. The evolution of large testes size in the Grevy's zebra, when compared to the congeneric plains zebra, horse, and mountain zebra, allows for this increased investment.