The path to success for fish sperm | 5/24/2018 | Staff
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In many animals, males pursue alternative tactics when competing for the fertilization of eggs. Some cichlid fishes from Lake Tanganyika breed in empty snail shells, which may select for extremely divergent mating tactics. A recent study at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the University of Bern shows that different male types within a species produce divergent sperm, specializing either in speed or longevity.

In the context of reproductive competition, males find different ways to enhance their odds. This may include flamboyant colours, gorgeous feathers, impressive antlers or conspicuous courtship displays. Now a team lead by Michael Taborsky at the Behavioural Ecology Division of the University of Bern found that the harsh competition for fertilizations can result in the production of specialized sperm in dependence of the particular mating tactic pursued by a male.

Males - Breeding - Snail - Shells - Divergence

"Males of cichlid fish breeding in empty snail shells may exhibit a striking divergence in traits boosting their chances in the race for fertilizations", Michael Taborsky says. In one of these species, large males collect empty snail shells in which females can breed. They may be extremely haremic, with up to 20 females breeding in their shells at the same time. The drawback is that these males have to grow big to be able to collect and transport these massive snail shells. This means that they have to wait up to two years before being able to reproduce, that is after passing the size threshold required for successful shell carrying. This opens a niche for an alternative mating tactic: tiny males may take advantage of the nest building effort of their large competitors and sneak into shells in which a female is spawning, attempting to fertilize her eggs from inside the shell. These males can start reproducing early in life, because it takes little time to grow...
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