It is often assumed that longer sperm, by virtue of their increased swimming speed, have a fertilization advantage over shorter sperm when in competition to fertilize eggs. However, there is surprisingly little evidence for a positive correlation between sperm length and speed. Here we use an approach that accounts for within-male variation in sperm traits to examine the relationships between sperm length and sperm speed across a broad range of species, including three internally fertilizing species and three externally fertilizing species. Our results reveal that correlations between sperm size and speed are indeed present and possibly more common than currently thought. However, the direction of the correlations between sperm length and speed, which are more prevalent within a male's ejaculate than among males, were influenced by fertilization mode in contrasting and unexpected ways. Broadly, the patterns revealed that in externally fertilizing species sperm with longer flagellum and shorter heads relative to their flagellum swam faster, whereas in internally fertilizing species sperm with shorter flagellum and longer heads relative to their flagellum swam faster. We discuss these results in light of sperm competition theory and contrast the intraspecific patterns observed in this study with macroevolutionary patterns of sperm evolution reported elsewhere.
Keywords: Cryptic female choice; sperm competition; sperm length components.
© 2013 The Author(s). Evolution © 2013 The Society for the Study of Evolution.