Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 7, pp 1133–1144 | Cite as

Testing a post-copulatory pre-zygotic reproductive barrier in a passerine species pair

  • Emily R. A. CramerEmail author
  • Terje Laskemoen
  • Fabrice Eroukhmanoff
  • Fredrik Haas
  • Jo S. Hermansen
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
  • Melissah Rowe
  • Glenn-Peter Sætre
  • Arild Johnsen
Original Paper


Sexual selection may drive speciation, but most research focuses on pre-copulatory sexual selection, overlooking post-copulatory processes. Post-copulatory sexual selection in allopatric populations could drive divergence in post-copulatory pre-zygotic (PCPZ) phenotypes, limiting gene flow upon secondary contact. Here, we performed in vitro experiments examining one potential PCPZ barrier between two closely related passerine species, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and Spanish sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis). In birds, crossing in the vagina may be particularly challenging for sperm, so we tested the effect of female reproductive tract fluids on sperm swimming speed and motility. If a PCPZ barrier exists at this stage of the fertilization process, heterospecific female fluids are predicted to reduce sperm swimming speed or motility relative to conspecific female fluid. We found that house sparrow female fluids affected the two species’ sperm asymmetrically, depending on the control sperm velocity and male species. Overall, however, sperm performed equally in conspecific and heterospecific female fluids, and the species had similar sperm morphology and sperm swimming performance. Low divergence in PCPZ phenotypes between species, perhaps because post-copulatory sexual selection is stabilizing or only moderately strong in these taxa, may be insufficient to cause an overall PCPZ barrier. Reinforcement may be unlikely to drive PCPZ barriers for this species pair, because relatively effective pre-copulatory barriers exist between the species, and because hybrids can be quite successful. Testing the role of PCPZ barriers in birds with more divergent PCPZ phenotypes will improve our understanding of speciation in passerines.


Post-copulatory sexual selection Sperm competition Sperm motility Speciation 



We thank Lars Erik Johannessen for assistance with R and CEROS analysis, Jostein Gohli for comments on a previous version of the manuscript, Even Stensrud for additional sperm morphology measures, and Alfonso Marzal Reynolds for providing wild Spanish sparrow sperm samples for comparison. Funding was provided by the Research Council of Norway (grant 213592 for ERAC and AJ; 196554/V40 for TL, MR, and JTL; and 204523 for GPS), the University of Oslo (Molecular Life Science, to JH), the Swedish Research Council (FH, FE) and the Marie Curie Foundation (FE, GPS).

Ethical standards

All authors declare that the present study complies with the current laws and ethical standards of animal research in Norway. Ethical permission was issued to FH (Norwegian Animal Research Authority—FOTS ID 2394).

Supplementary material

265_2014_1724_MOESM1_ESM.doc (38 kb)
Online Resource 1 (DOC 38 kb)
265_2014_1724_MOESM2_ESM.doc (44 kb)
Online Resource 2 (DOC 43 kb)
265_2014_1724_MOESM3_ESM.doc (77 kb)
Online Resource 3 (DOC 77 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily R. A. Cramer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Terje Laskemoen
    • 1
  • Fabrice Eroukhmanoff
    • 2
  • Fredrik Haas
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jo S. Hermansen
    • 2
  • Jan T. Lifjeld
    • 1
  • Melissah Rowe
    • 1
  • Glenn-Peter Sætre
    • 2
  • Arild Johnsen
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Center for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of BiosciencesUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of Biology, Ecology BuildingLund UniversityLundSweden

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