Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Ejaculate quality and the success of extra-pair copulations in the zebra finch

Abstract

IN many passerine birds, sperm competition1,2 is intense and extra-pair paternity frequent3. The outcome of sperm competition is often determined by relative sperm numbers4,5, and theory predicts that males should maximize the number of sperm they ejaculate during extra-pair copulations6,7. Differences in sperm quality between males also affect the outcome of sperm competition4. Here we report that the swimming velocity of sperm of the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata, varies predictably within males, and is determined, together with sperm numbers, by the time since last ejaculation. By performing extra-pair copulations outside their own-pair copulation period, males maximize both the quality and number of sperm in ejaculates. These effects are a consequence of the way sperm are stored and mature in the male reproductive tract. The disportionate success of extra-pair copulations8, also seen in other birds9, may therefore be explained in terms of the independent effects of sperm numbers and velocity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. Parker, G. A. Biol. Rev 45, 525–567 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Smith, R. L. (ed.) Sperm Competition and Evolution of Animal Mating Systems (Academic, London, 1984).

  3. Birkhead, T. R. & Møller, A. P. Sperm Competition in Birds: Evolutionary Causes and Consequences (Academic, London, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Martin, P. A. & Dziuk, P. J. J. Reprod. Fert. 49, 323–329 (1977).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Martin, P. A., Reimers, T. J., Lodge, J. R. & Dziuk, P. J. J. Reprod. Fert. 39, 251–258 (1974).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Parker, G. A. J. theor. Biol. 96, 281–294 (1982).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Parker, G. A. Proc. R. Soc. B 242, 127–133 (1990).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Birkhead, T. R., Pellatt, J. E. & Hunter, F. M. Nature 334, 60–62 (1988).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Dixon, A., Ross, D., O'Malley, S. L. C. & Burke, T. Nature 371, 698–700 (1994).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Pellatt, E. J. & Birkhead, T. R. Ibis 136, 97–101 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Wolfson, A. Science 120, 68–71 (1954).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Bedford, M. J. in The Spermatozoon, Maturation, Motility, Surface Properties and Comparative Aspects (eds Fawcett, D. W. & Bedford, M. J.). 7–21 (Urban & Schwazenberg, Baltimore, MD, 1979).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Moore, H. D. M. in Scientific Foundation of Urology (eds Chisholm, G. & Fair, W.) 399–410 (Heinemann Medical, Oxford, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Birkhead, T. R., Pellatt, E. J. & Fletcher, F. J. Reprod. Fert. 99, 593–600 (1993).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Birkhead, T. R., Clarkson, K. & Zann, R. Anim. Behav. 35, 1853–1855 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Birkhead, T. R. & Fletcher, F. Anim. Behav. 48, 451–456 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Shapiro, D. Y., Marconato, A. & Yoshikawa, T. Ecology 75, 1334–1344 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Colegrave, N., Birkhead, T. R. & Lessells, C. M. Proc. R. Soc. B 259, 223–228 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Wishart, G. J. & Palmer, F. H. Br. Poultry Sci. 27, 97–102 (1986).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Wishart, G. J. & Steele, M. G. in Control of Fertility in Domesticated Birds (ed. Brillard, J. P.) 101–112 (INRA, Paris, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lifjeld, J., Dunn, P. O., Robertson, R.J. & Boag, P. T. Anim. Behav. 45, 213–229 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Birkhead, T., Fletcher, F., Pellatt, E. et al. Ejaculate quality and the success of extra-pair copulations in the zebra finch. Nature 377, 422–423 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1038/377422a0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/377422a0

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing