, Volume 50, Issue 6, pp 511-518

Male dimorphism, sperm traits and immunology in the corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops L.)

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The evolution of alternative male mating phenotypes inevitably involves variation in risk or intensity of sperm competition. Males that typically mate in disfavoured roles (i.e. sneakers/parasitic males) are predicted to experience higher magnitudes of sperm competition than males mating in favoured roles (preferred by females/exhibiting mate monopolisation). Here, we investigated whether two distinct male phenotypes in corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops) differ with respect to adaptations for sperm competition in terms of sperm quantity, sperm motility and fertilising capacity. We found that males exhibiting female mimicry (disfavoured role) had both absolutely and relatively larger gonads than males with typical secondary sexual characters (favoured role). Moreover, a higher proportion of sperm from female mimics was motile 5 min after activation compared to sperm of territorial males. There were, however, no differences in sperm concentration or in in vitro fertilisation ability between the two male morphs. We also examined whether the male phenotypes differed in some immune parameters and if any such variation is associated with sperm traits. Current theories predict that ejaculate quality should be negatively correlated with the level of immunocompetence. Territorial males had relatively heavier spleens than female mimics, but whether this reflects differing immunocompetence is uncertain, since the spleen is also an important organ for erythrocyte storage. Furthermore, there were no differences in the densities of circulating lymphocytes or granulocytes, and the immune parameters did not covary with the sperm traits. Differences in immunocompetence are therefore unlikely to provide a major proximate explanation for variations in sperm traits in corkwing wrasse.

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