Alternative male morphs solve sperm performance/longevity trade-off in opposite directions

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Science Advances  23 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaap8563
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aap8563

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Males pursuing alternative reproductive tactics have been predicted to face a trade-off between maximizing either swimming performance or endurance of their sperm. However, empirical evidence for this trade-off is equivocal, which may be due to simplistic assumptions. In the shell-brooding cichlid fish Lamprologus callipterus, two Mendelian male morphs compete for fertilization by divergent means: Bourgeois nest males ejaculate sperm, on average, about six times farther from the unfertilized ova than do parasitic dwarf males. This asymmetry is opposite to the usual situation, in which bourgeois males typically benefit from superior fertilization opportunities, suggesting that nest males’ sperm should persist longer than dwarf male sperm. The assumed trade-off between sperm swimming performance and longevity predicts that, in turn, sperm of dwarf males should outperform that of nest males in swimming efficiency. Measurement of sperm performance and endurance reveals that dwarf male spermatozoa swim straighter initially than those of nest males, but their motility declines earlier and their velocity slows down more abruptly. Nest male sperm survives longer, which relates to a larger sperm head plus midpiece, implying more mitochondria. Thus, the trade-off between sperm performance and endurance is optimized in opposite directions by alternative male morphs. We argue that the relative success of alternative sperm performance strategies can be influenced strongly by environmental factors such as the time window between gamete release and fertilization, and the position of gamete release. This is an important yet little understood aspect of gametic adaptations to sperm competition.

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