Of mice and women: advances in mammalian sperm competition with a focus on the female perspective

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1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Although initially lagging behind discoveries being made in other taxa, mammalian sperm competition is now a productive and advancing field of research. Sperm competition in mammals is not merely a 'sprint-race' between the gametes of rival males, but rather a race over hurdles; those hurdles being the anatomical and physiological barriers provided by the female reproductive tract, as well as the egg and its vestments. With this in mind, in this review, I discuss progress in the field while focusing on the female perspective. I highlight ways by which sperm competition can have positive effects on female reproductive success and discuss how competitive outcomes are not only owing to dynamics between the ejaculates of rival males, but also attributable to mechanisms by which female mammals bias paternity toward favourable sires. Drawing on examples across different species-from mice to humans-I provide an overview of the accumulated evidence which firmly establishes that sperm competition is a key selective force in the evolution of male traits and detail how females can respond to increased sperm competitiveness with increased egg resistance to fertilization. I also discuss evidence for facultative responses to the sperm competition environment observed within mammal species. Overall, this review identifies shortcomings in our understanding of the specific mechanisms by which female mammals 'select' sperm. More generally, this review demonstrates how, moving forward, mammals will continue to be effective animal models for studying both evolutionary and facultative responses to sperm competition. This article is part of the theme issue 'Fifty years of sperm competition'.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalPhilosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Volume375
Issue number1813
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2020

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