Royal Society Publishing

Sperm Size and Sperm Competition in Birds

James V. Briskie, Robert Montgomerie


In a sample of 20 species of North American passerine birds we found no relation between sperm size and mating system like that previously reported in mammals (Gomendio & Roldan (Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 243, 181 (1991)). Instead, we found a positive correlation between sperm length and the length of female sperm storage tubules (SSTS) and a negative correlation between sperm length and the number of SSTS. Both of these correlations suggest that the more than fivefold variation in sperm size we found among species can be explained by sperm competition for access to storage sites (SSTS) in females. As longer sperm appear to be able to swim faster, selection should favour long sperm when SSTS are in short supply; sperm long enough to fill an SST might also prevent access to SSTS by the sperm of other males. Conversely, selection should favour shorter sperm when there is an advantage to sperm layering within an SST promoting a lastmale mating advantage. Although we conclude that sperm competition influences sperm size in birds, little is known about the interactions between sperm and SSTS. It seems clear, however, that detailed study of this interaction will provide a new dimension to the study of avian mating systems.