Male mammals respond to a risk of sperm competition conveyed by odours of conspecific males

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Sperm competition occurs when a female copulates with two or more males and the sperm of those males compete within the female's reproductive tract to fertilize her eggs1,2. The frequent occurrence of sperm competition has forced males of many species to develop different strategies to overcome the sperm of competing males1,3. A prevalent strategy is for males to increase their sperm investment (total number of sperm allocated by a male to a particular female) after detecting a risk of sperm competition1,3,4. It has been shown that the proportion of sperm that one male contributes to the sperm pool of a female is correlated with the proportion of offspring sired by that male5,6. Therefore, by increasing his sperm investment a male may bias a potential sperm competition in his favour5,7,8. Here we show that male meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, increase their sperm investment when they mate in the presence of another male's odours. Such an increase in sperm investment does not occur by augmenting the frequency of ejaculations, but by increasing the amount of sperm in a similar number of ejaculations.

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Figure 1: Sperm investment in the RSC and the control context.
Figure 2: Sperm investment in relation to risk of sperm competition and male body weight.
Figure 3: Frequency of ejaculations in the control and the RSC contexts.


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This work was supported by a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research to J.d.-T., a NIH Grant to M.H.F. and a NIH Grant to the Tennessee Mouse Genome Consortium. J.d.-T. designed and carried out the experiments, analysed the data and wrote the paper; M.H.F. assisted in writing of the final drafts of the paper, as well as providing research facilities, animals and material.

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Correspondence to Javier delBarco-Trillo.

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delBarco-Trillo, J., Ferkin, M. Male mammals respond to a risk of sperm competition conveyed by odours of conspecific males. Nature 431, 446–449 (2004) doi:10.1038/nature02845

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