Sperm in competition: not playing by the numbers

Trends Ecol Evol. 2005 Jan;20(1):46-53. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.10.011. Epub 2004 Nov 6.


The outcome of sperm competition is mediated largely by the relative numbers of sperm from competing males. However, substantial variation in features of sperm morphology and behaviour, such as length, longevity and motility, exists and researchers have suggested that this variation functions in postcopulatory sexual selection. Recent studies have determined the effect of these sperm-quality traits on fertilization success and a synthesis of this literature reveals that they are important in both sperm competition and cryptic female choice. To understand how postcopulatory sexual selection influences sperm traits, future research should determine sex-specific interactions that influence paternity, identify genetic correlations between ejaculate characters, quantify the relative costs of producing different sperm traits, and test assumptions of models of sperm quality evolution. Such research will shed light on what evolutionary pressures are responsible for the diversity in sperm morphometry and behaviour.