Between-male variation in sperm size, velocity and longevity in sand martins Riparia riparia

Fabrice Helfenstein, Tibor Szép, Zsolt Nagy, Bart Kempenaers, Richard H. Wagner

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Sperm mobility is known to be an important determinant of a male's sperm competitive ability. Although more debated, sperm length and its relation to sperm swimming ability has also been proposed to determine a male's fertilisation potential. Furthermore, both mobility and length may covary with a male's phenotype, either positively (the phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis) or negatively if, for instance, low-quality males have less access to females but invest more in sperm production. Using dummy females, we collected sperm samples from wild sand martins Riparia raparia males. We investigated the relationship between sperm length and sperm swimming speed as measured by sperm straight line velocity (VSL), and determined whether sperm traits are correlated with male body size and condition. We found that total sperm length is repeatable within-ejaculate and shows substantial inter-male variation. Sperm length was associated with sperm velocity: males with short sperm have sperm that swim initially faster but die sooner, whereas males with longer sperm have sperm that swim more slowly but for a longer time. Smaller males produced sperm with higher overall velocity. This correlation between male size and sperm behaviour may reflect alternative fertilisation strategies where small males having less mating opportunities invest more in sperm competitive ability. The existence of such alternative strategies would participate in maintaining variation in sperm length and velocity in this species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-652
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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