Rowe M, Laskemoen T, Johnsen A, Lifjeld JT
Proc. Biol. Sci. 280 (1753) 20122616 [2013-02-22; online 2013-01-04]
Spermatozoa exhibit considerable interspecific variability in size and shape. Our understanding of the adaptive significance of this diversity, however, remains limited. Determining how variation in sperm structure translates into variation in sperm performance will contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary diversification of sperm form. Here, using data from passerine birds, we test the hypothesis that longer sperm swim faster because they have more available energy. We found that sperm with longer midpieces have higher levels of intracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP), but that greater energy reserves do not translate into faster-swimming sperm. Additionally, we found that interspecific variation in sperm ATP concentration is not associated with the level of sperm competition faced by males. Finally, using Bayesian methods, we compared the evolutionary trajectories of sperm morphology and ATP content, and show that both traits have undergone directional evolutionary change. However, in contrast to recent suggestions in other taxa, we show that changes in ATP are unlikely to have preceded changes in morphology in passerine sperm. These results suggest that variable selective pressures are likely to have driven the evolution of sperm traits in different taxa, and highlight fundamental biological differences between taxa with internal and external fertilization, as well as those with and without sperm storage.