Sibling rivalry: Males with more brothers develop larger testes

Ecol Evol. 2018 Jul 22;8(16):8197-8203. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4337. eCollection 2018 Aug.


When females mate with multiple partners in a reproductive cycle, the relative number of competing sperm from rival males is often the most critical factor in determining paternity. Gamete production is directly related to testis size in most species, and is associated with both mating behavior and perceived risk of competition. Deer mice, Peromyscus maniculatus, are naturally promiscuous and males invest significantly more in sperm production than males of P. polionotus, their monogamous sister-species. Here, we show that the larger testes in P. maniculatus are retained after decades of enforced monogamy in captivity. While these results suggest that differences in sperm production between species with divergent evolutionary histories can be maintained in captivity, we also show that the early rearing environment of males can strongly influence their testis size as adults. Using a second-generation hybrid population to increase variation within the population, we show that males reared in litters with more brothers develop larger testes as adults. Importantly, this difference in testis size is also associated with increased fertility. Together, our findings suggest that sperm production may be both broadly shaped by natural selection over evolutionary timescales and also finely tuned during early development.

Keywords: deer mouse; offspring sex ratio; phenotypic plasticity; sexual selection; sperm competition.