Sperm swimming speed and energetics vary with sperm competition risk in bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
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- Burness, G., Casselman, S.J., Schulte-Hostedde, A.I. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2004) 56: 65. doi:10.1007/s00265-003-0752-7
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Under sperm competition, a male’s fertilization success depends largely on the ejaculate characteristics of competing males. Theoretical models predict that, in external fertilizers, increased risk of sperm competition should result in selection for increased sperm swimming speed. To test this prediction, we studied the behavior of sperm from parental and sneaker male bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), a fish species characterized by high levels of cuckoldry due to alternative reproductive tactics of males (parentals and cuckolders). Because cuckolders (sneakers and satellites) always spawn in the presence of a parental male, but the reverse is not true, cuckolders experience the greater risk of sperm competition. We show here that the spermatozoa of sneakers have faster initial swimming speeds but shorter periods of motility than the sperm of parental males. Moreover, we show that sperm swimming speeds shortly after activation (when most fertilization occurs) are correlated with starting ATP levels in spermatozoa, suggesting that sperm competition has selected for higher energetic capacity in the sperm of sneakers. Thus, the higher energetic capacity and initial swimming speed of sneaker sperm may explain why, despite having fewer sperm per ejaculate than parentals, sneakers fertilize more eggs than parental males when they compete to fertilize a clutch of eggs.