Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 301–309 | Cite as

Variation in sperm morphometry and sperm competition among barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) populations

  • Terje LaskemoenEmail author
  • Tomas Albrecht
  • Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati
  • Jaroslav Cepak
  • Florentino de Lope
  • Ignacio G. Hermosell
  • Lars Erik Johannessen
  • Oddmund Kleven
  • Alfonso Marzal
  • Timothy A. Mousseau
  • Anders P. Møller
  • Raleigh J. Robertson
  • Geir Rudolfsen
  • Nicola Saino
  • Yoni Vortman
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
Original Paper


Spermatozoa vary greatly in size and shape among species across the animal kingdom. Postcopulatory sexual selection is thought to be the major evolutionary force driving this diversity. In contrast, less is known about how sperm size varies among populations of the same species. Here, we investigate geographic variation in sperm size in barn swallows Hirundo rustica, a socially monogamous passerine with a wide Holarctic breeding distribution. We included samples from seven populations and three subspecies: five populations of ssp. rustica in Europe (Czech, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Ukraine), one population of ssp. transitiva in Israel, and one population of ssp. erythrogaster in Canada. All sperm traits (head length, midpiece length, tail length, and total length) varied significantly among populations. The variation among the European rustica populations was much lower than the differences among subspecies, indicating that sperm traits reflect phylogenetic distance. We also performed a test of the relationship between the coefficient of between-male variation in total sperm length and extrapair paternity levels across different populations within a species. Recent studies have found a strong negative relationship between sperm size variation and extrapair paternity among species. Here, we show a similar negative relationship among six barn swallow populations, which suggests that the variance in male sperm length in a population is shaped by the strength of stabilizing postcopulatory sexual selection.


Barn swallow Extrapair paternity Hirundo rustica Sperm competition Sperm size 



We are grateful to all people that assisted with field work, especially Frode Fossøy in Canada, Bjørn Aksel Bjerke in Norway, and Luz Garcia-Longoria in Spain. A special thanks to Gustav Thorsø Mohr for allowing us to trap inside the barn at Thorsø Herregård. We thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. This study was supported by funding from the Czech Science Foundation (to TA, project no. P506/12/2472), a Fondazione Cariplo grant (to NS, grant no. 2009–3496), the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic (to JC, grant no. DKRVO 00023272), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (to RJR), the Norwegian Research Council (to JTL, OK, LEJ and TL), the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust (to TAM), and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitivness (to IGH, FdL and AM, grant no. CGL 2012–36665).

Ethical standards

All authors declare that the present study complies with the current laws and ethical standards of animal research in Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Ukraine.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest

Supplementary material

265_2012_1450_MOESM1_ESM.doc (40 kb)
Table S1 Overview of subspecies, sample size, sampling localities, and sampling years of barn swallow Hirundo rustica included in the analyses of among population variation in sperm morphometry (DOC 40 kb)
265_2012_1450_MOESM2_ESM.doc (56 kb)
Table S2 Summary of the pairwise comparisons of estimated marginal means of sperm head length variation among populations from the GLMM. Diagonal: mean sperm head length by population. Above the diagonal: difference in sperm head of the focal variable relative to the value in the diagonal. Below the diagonal: probabilities for difference between the populations, Bonferroni-adjusted for multiple comparisons. Significant differences are indicated by bold numbers (DOC 55 kb)
265_2012_1450_MOESM3_ESM.doc (56 kb)
Table S3 Summary of the pairwise comparisons of estimated marginal means of sperm midpiece length variation among populations from the GLMM. Diagonal: mean sperm midpiece length by population. Above the diagonal: difference in sperm midpiece of the focal variable relative to the value in the diagonal. Below the diagonal: probabilities for difference between the populations, Bonferroni-adjusted for multiple comparisons. Significant differences are indicated by bold numbers. (DOC 55 kb)
265_2012_1450_MOESM4_ESM.doc (56 kb)
Table S4 Summary of the pairwise comparisons of estimated marginal means of sperm total length variation among populations from the GLMM. Diagonal: mean sperm total length by population. Above the diagonal: difference in sperm total length of the focal variable relative to the value in the diagonal. Below the diagonal: probabilities for difference between the populations, Bonferroni-adjusted for multiple comparisons. Significant differences are indicated by bold numbers (DOC 55 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terje Laskemoen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tomas Albrecht
    • 2
    • 3
  • Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati
    • 4
  • Jaroslav Cepak
    • 5
  • Florentino de Lope
    • 6
  • Ignacio G. Hermosell
    • 6
  • Lars Erik Johannessen
    • 1
  • Oddmund Kleven
    • 1
    • 7
  • Alfonso Marzal
    • 6
  • Timothy A. Mousseau
    • 4
  • Anders P. Møller
    • 8
  • Raleigh J. Robertson
    • 9
  • Geir Rudolfsen
    • 10
  • Nicola Saino
    • 11
  • Yoni Vortman
    • 12
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Institute of Vertebrate Biology, v.v.i.Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  5. 5.Bird-ringing StationNational MuseumPragueCzech Republic
  6. 6.Departamento de Anatomia, Biologia Celular y ZoologiaUniversidad de ExtremaduraBadajozSpain
  7. 7.Norwegian Institute for Nature Research-NINATrondheimNorway
  8. 8.Laboratoire d’EcologieSystématique et EvolutionOrsay CedexFrance
  9. 9.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  10. 10.Department for Environmental Radioactivity, Norwegian Radiation Protection AuthorityFram CenterTromsøNorway
  11. 11.Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversit’a degli Studi di MilanoMilanoItaly
  12. 12.Department of Zoology, Faculty of Life SciencesTel-Aviv UniversityRamat AvivIsrael

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