Male-derived cuticular hydrocarbons signal sperm competition intensity and affect ejaculate expenditure in crickets

Melissa Thomas, Leigh Simmons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    Female sexual promiscuity can have significant effects on male mating decisions because it increases the intensity of competition between ejaculates for fertilization. Because sperm production is costly, males that can detect multiple matings by females and allocate sperm strategically will have an obvious fitness advantage. The presence of rival males is widely recognized as a cue used by males to assess sperm competition. However, for species in which males neither congregate around nor guard females, other more cryptic cues might be involved. Here, we demonstrate unprecedented levels of sperm competition assessment by males, which is mediated via the use of chemical cues. Using the cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus, we manipulated male perception of sperm competition by experimentally coating live unmated females with cuticular compounds extracted from males. We found that males adjusted their ejaculate allocation in response to these compounds: the viability of sperm contained within a male's ejaculate decreased as the number of male extracts applied to his virgin female partner was increased. We further show that males do not respond to the relative concentration of male compounds present on females, but rather to the number of distinct signature odours of individual males. Our results conform to sperm competition theory, and show for the first time, to our knowledge, that males can detect different intensities of sperm competition by using distinct chemical cues of individual males present on females.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)383-388
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1655
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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