Polyandry reduces sperm length variation in social insects

doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01343.x


Postcopulatory sexual selection, either in the form of sperm competition or cryptic female choice, is an important selective force that is thought to have generated the enormous variation in sperm morphology observed interspecifically. However, the evolutionary significance of intraspecific variation in sperm morphology, and the role that postcopulatory sexual selection plays in influencing this variation, remains poorly investigated in invertebrates. Here, we tested the hypothesis that postcopulatory sexual selection reduces variation in sperm morphology, both between and within males, in 27 species of eusocial ants and bees. These eusocial species offer an unusual opportunity to assess how selection acts on variance in sperm morphology, as haploid males produce clonal, haploid sperm that does not experience haploid–diploid conflict. We provide solid evidence that males of polyandrous ant and bee species indeed produce less–variable sperm, indicating that sperm competition selected for sperm of superior quality. Our results offer a mechanistic explanation for the evolution of high–quality sperm and provide comprehensive evidence that sperm morphology of social insects is influenced by sexual selection.

Key Words

Cryptic female choice, Postcopulatory sexual selection, Sperm competition, Sperm length, Sperm morphology

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