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Reddish male swallows have short sperm


Sexual selection favors the evolution of pre-copulatory sexual traits such as ornamentation and post-copulatory sexual traits such as long sperm, but the interrelationships of the two types of sexual traits remain unclear. Here, using Japanese barn swallows, Hirundo rustica gutturalis, and an interspecific analysis of the family Hirundinidae, we examined sperm length in relation to pheomelanin-based plumage coloration. As predicted by the fact that pheomelanogenesis consumes antioxidants, which would be detrimental to develop long sperm, reddish coloration (but not other ornaments) were negatively related to sperm length both within and across species, suggesting an evolutionary tradeoff between these traits.

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We are grateful to the residents of Joetsu City for their kind support and assistance. We also thank Dr. Shumpei Kitamura and his laboratory members in Ishikawa Prefectural University. MH was supported by the Research Fellowship of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS, 19K06850).

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MH did most field survey, performed statistical analysis, and wrote most of the manuscript, EA and MN assisted field survey, provided technical support and improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Masaru Hasegawa.

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We have no conflict of interest.

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The permits for animal capture and handling were provided by Niigata Prefecture in Japan (#1 and #24 for 2017 and 2018, respectively), following the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Management Law.

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Hasegawa, M., Arai, E. & Nakamura, M. Reddish male swallows have short sperm. J Ethol 40, 85–89 (2022).

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  • Pheomelanin-based pigmentation
  • Plumage ornaments
  • Sperm size
  • Phylogenetic comparative approach
  • Tail feather length