Royal Society Publishing

Sperm competition and the evolution of gamete morphology in frogs

Phillip G. Byrne, Leigh W. Simmons, J. Dale Roberts


Despite detailed knowledge of the ultrastructure of spermatozoa, there is a paucity of information on the selective pressures that influence sperm form and function. Theoretical models for both internal and external fertilizers predict that sperm competition could favour the evolution of longer sperm. Empirical tests of the externalfertilization model have been restricted to just one group, the fishes, and these tests have proved equivocal. We investigated how sperm competition affects sperm morphology in externally fertilizing myobatrachid frogs. We also examined selection acting on egg size, and covariation between sperm and egg morphology. Species were ranked according to probability of group spawning and hence risk of sperm competition. Body size, testis size and oviposition environment may also influence gamete traits and were included in our analyses. After controlling for phylogenetic relationships between the species examined, we found that an increased risk of sperm competition was associated with increased sperm head and tail lengths. Path analysis showed that sperm competition had its greatest direct effect on sperm tail length, as might be expected under selection resulting from competitive fertilization. Sperm competition did not influence egg size. Oviposition location had a strong influence on egg size and a weak influence on sperm length, with terrestrial spawners having larger gametes than aquatic spawners. Our analysis revealed significant correlated evolution between egg morphology and sperm morphology. These data provide a conclusive demonstration that sperm competition selects for increased sperm length in frogs, and evidence for evolutionary covariance between aspects of male and female gamete morphology.

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