Response to selection and realized heritability of sperm length in the yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria)

Heredity (Edinb). 2010 Jan;104(1):61-6. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2009.93.


Sperm length shows considerable phenotypic variation both inter- and intra-specifically, but a general explanation for this variation is lacking. In addition, our understanding of the genetic variation underlying sperm length variation is also limited because there have been few studies on the genetics of sperm size. One factor that could explain the variation in sperm length is that length influences sperm competitiveness, and there is some evidence for this. However, in yellow dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria), microevolutionary responses to experimental variation at levels of sperm competition indicate that sperm length does not influence sperm competitiveness, although this lack of response may simply indicate sperm length lacks evolutionary potential (that is, it is constrained in some way), in spite of evidence that sperm length is heritable. Here we report on a laboratory study, in which we artificially selected upwards and downwards on sperm length in S. stercoraria. We found that sperm length significantly diverged after four generations of selection, but the response to selection was asymmetrical: upward selection generated a rapid response, but downward did not. We estimated the realized heritability of sperm length to be approximately 50%, which is consistent with previous sire-son estimates. We also assessed the fertility of males from upward and downward lines and found they did not differ. Results are discussed in the context of sperm competition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diptera / genetics*
  • Diptera / physiology
  • Female
  • Fertility / genetics
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population
  • Male
  • Population Density
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*
  • Spermatozoa / physiology