A competitive environment influences sperm production, but not testes tissue composition, in house mice

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Abstract

Due to the physiological cost of sperm production, males are expected to be prudent in their expenditure and adjust their investment according to current social conditions. Strategic adjustments in sperm expenditure during development can be made via changes in testes size, sperm production rates or testes tissue composition. Here, using house mice, we test the hypothesis that elevated sperm production is driven by a plastic response in the spatial organization of the testes. We reared males under different social conditions (competitive vs. noncompetitive) and quantified sperm number and the proportion of sperm-producing tissue within the testes. Further, because sperm quality is a critical determinant of competitive fertilization success, we used computer-assisted sperm analysis to quantify six sperm motility traits. Our investigation revealed that males reared in an environment with a perceived risk of reproductive competition produced more sperm in the absence of changes in testes morphology. We discuss this result in relation to fixed and flexible phenotypically plastic responses to future competitive conditions, and conclude that adaptive adjustments in sperm number in response to the social environment are likely attributable to variation in sperm production rate. Further, we found no difference in in vitro sperm motility parameters among males from the different social environment regimes. Overall, this investigation improves our understanding of the mechanisms of male plastic responses to reproductive competition experienced during sexual development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1647-1654
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume31
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

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