Royal Society Publishing

Evolution of sperm size in nematodes: sperm competition favours larger sperm

Craig W. LaMunyon, Ward Samuel

Abstract

In the free–living rhabditid nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, sperm size is a determinant of sperm competitiveness. Larger sperm crawl faster and physically displace smaller sperm to take fertilization priority, but not without a cost: larger sperm are produced at a slower rate. Here, we investigate the evolution of sperm size in the family Rhabditidae by comparing sperm among 19 species, seven of which are hermaphroditic (self–fertile hermaphrodites and males), the rest being gonochoristic (females and males). We found that sperm size differed significantly with reproductive mode: males of gonochoristic species had significantly larger sperm than did males of the hermaphroditic species. Because males compose 50% of the populations of gonochoristic species but are rare in hermaphroditic species, the risk of male—male sperm competition is greater in gonochoristic species. Larger sperm have thus evolved in species with a greater risk of sperm competition. Our results support recent studies contending that sperm size may increase in response to sperm competition.

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