Rapid adjustments of sperm characteristics in relation to social status

Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Feb 7;273(1584):325-32. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3305.


Sperm competition models predict that males typically mating in disfavoured roles should be selected to compensate for their disadvantage by investing more into sperm. We studied the effect of rapid changes in social status on ejaculate investments during experimental trials with an externally fertilizing teleost--the Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). We document that males becoming dominant produce less sperm with lower velocity, but have higher sex steroid concentrations than subordinate males. These differences in sperm characteristics seem mainly to result from a decreased investment in sperm among fish that become dominant compared to pre-trial levels. Moreover, these adjustments of sperm production and sperm velocity seem not to be traded against sperm longevity. Our results support theoretical models of sperm competition, as males forced to mate in disfavoured roles seem to invest more into ejaculate quality than males in favoured roles. Additionally, we are the first to report that males, in a species with status-dependent shifts in reproductive tactics, have evolved rapid tactic specific adjustments of sperm production and sperm velocity corresponding to what could be predicted from their reproductive roles.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hydroxyprogesterones / blood
  • Male
  • Salmonidae / blood
  • Salmonidae / physiology*
  • Social Dominance*
  • Sperm Motility
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*
  • Testosterone / analogs & derivatives
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Hydroxyprogesterones
  • 17,20-dihydroxy-4-pregnen-3-one
  • Testosterone
  • 11-ketotestosterone