Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 152, Issue 3, pp 515–520 | Cite as

Sperm dimensions differ between two Coal Tit Periparus ater populations

  • Tim Schmoll
  • Oddmund Kleven
Original Article


The evolutionary forces that shape and maintain variation in sperm traits across species in birds have recently attracted increased attention. Much less is known about the patterns, the causes and the consequences of variation in sperm traits within and, in particular, between populations of the same species. We here analyse intraspecific variation in sperm dimensions within and between two populations of the Coal Tit Periparus ater, a socially monogamous passerine with a high frequency of extra-pair paternity. Spermatozoa from a Norwegian population had a greater mean total length compared to those from a German population, mainly as a result of longer sperm heads. Sperm head length in the Norwegian population also accounted for a larger percentage of sperm total length suggesting differences in sperm proportions between populations. Furthermore, spermatozoa from the Norwegian population showed lower mean within-male variation in sperm length and there was significant between-male variation in sperm total length within each of the two populations. We discuss these results in the light of recent comparative evidence suggesting relationships between sperm length, and variation in sperm length, and the frequency of extra-pair paternity across passerine birds.


Sperm morphology Sperm proportions Sperm competition Population differences Intraspecific variation Extra-pair paternity 


Die evolutionären Kräfte, die die Variation von Spermienmerkmalen im zwischenartlichen Vergleich geformt und aufrechterhalten haben, erfuhren in jüngerer Zeit gesteigerte Aufmerksamkeit. Viel weniger ist jedoch über die Muster, die Ursachen und die Konsequenzen von innerartlicher Variation von Spermienmerkmalen bekannt, was insbesondere für die Variation zwischen Populationen einer Art gilt. Wir analysieren in diesem Beitrag innerartliche Variation in der Spermienmorphologie der Tannenmeise Periparus ater, einer sozial monogamen Singvogelart mit hohen Fremdvaterschaftsraten. Die Spermatozoen einer norwegischen Population waren im Mittel länger als die einer deutschen Population, was hauptsächlich auf längere Spermienköpfe zurückgeführt werden konnte. Die Spermienköpfe in der norwegischen Population machten auch einen größeren Anteil an der gesamten Spermienlänge aus, was auf Unterschiede in den Spermienproportionen schließen lässt. Darüber hinaus zeigten die Spermatozoen aus der norwegischen Population eine im Mittel niedrigere Variabilität innerhalb eines Ejakulats und die Spermienlänge unterschied sich signifikant zwischen individuellen Männchen in beiden untersuchten Populationen. Wir diskutieren diese Ergebnisse im Lichte aktueller vergleichender Studien, die Zusammenhänge zwischen Spermiengröße bzw. Variation in der Spermiengröße und der Häufigkeit des Auftretens von Fremdvaterschaften nahe legen.



We would like to thank Doris Winkel (†2007) and Wolfgang Winkel for maintaining and monitoring the German study population over the last decades and the Institute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland”, Wilhelmshaven, Germany for logistic support. Frode Fossøy, Lars Erik Johannessen, Terje Laskemoen, Jan T. Lifjeld, Trond Øigarden and Heike Wemhoff-de Groot assisted in the field. We thank Bart Kempenaers and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. This study complies with the current laws of Norway and Germany.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.National Centre for Biosystematics, Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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