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Sperm size is negatively related to relative testis size in West African riverine cichlid fishes

Langen, Kathrin, Thünken, Timo, Klemm, Janine, Sandmann, Sarah, Bakker, Theo C. M.
Die Naturwissenschaften 2019 v.106 no.5-6 pp. 30
Cichlidae, breeding, fish, flagellum, gonadosomatic index, least squares, males, mating systems, monogamy, polygamy, risk, rivers, sperm competition, sperm motility, spermatozoa, testes
Fishes show a great diversity of mating systems and fertilization mechanisms. This diversity creates an enormous potential for sperm competition. Typically, monogamous species face a low risk of sperm competition and invest less into sperm, and thus show smaller relative testis mass compared to polygamous species with high sperm competition. In cichlids, sperm competition risk is very variable. In lacustrine East African cichlids, large sperm are interpreted as an adaptation to sperm competition, as in those species sperm length correlates with sperm swimming speed. The aim of the present study was to examine variation in sperm and testis traits of substrate breeding cichlids from West African river systems and its relationship to sperm competition. Therefore, sperm traits (total sperm size, flagellum-, midpiece-, and head size) and sperm number were related to the gonadosomatic index (GSI), an indicator of sperm competition, in eight species of two large informal tribes, the chromidotilapiines and the haplotilapiines. We found significant differences between species in all examined sperm traits, sperm number, and GSI with pronounced differences between chromidotilapiines and haplotilapiines. We used a generalized least-squares approach to control for non-independence of data. GSI was positively correlated with sperm number but negatively correlated with total sperm size (also negatively with the flagellum and head size but not significantly with midpiece size). Sperm number and sperm size were negatively correlated suggesting a trade-off between sperm size and quality. Our results suggest that large sperm can evolve in species with relatively low sperm expenditure and probably in absence of high sperm competition between males.