Jump to Main Content
Nonfertilizing sperm in Lepidoptera show little evidence for recurrent positive selection
- Mongue, Andrew J., Hansen, Megan E., Gu, Liuqi, Sorenson, Clyde E., Walters, James R.
- Molecular ecology 2019 v.28 no.10 pp. 2517-2530
- DNA, Danaus plexippus, Sphingidae, butterflies, data collection, evolutionary adaptation, females, genetic analysis, genome, males, mating systems, morphs, moths, polyandry, proteins, risk, sperm competition, spermatogenesis, spermatozoa
- Sperm are among the most variable cells in nature. Some of this variation results from nonadaptive errors in spermatogenesis, but many species consistently produce multiple sperm morphs, the adaptive significance of which remains unknown. Here, we investigate the evolution of dimorphic sperm in Lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths. Males of this order produce both fertilizing sperm and a secondary, nonfertilizing type that lacks DNA. Previous organismal studies suggested a role for nonfertilizing sperm in sperm competition, but this hypothesis has never been evaluated from a molecular framework. We combined published data sets with new sequencing in two species, the monandrous Carolina sphinx moth and the highly polyandrous monarch butterfly. Based on population genetic analyses, we see evidence for increased adaptive evolution in fertilizing sperm, but only in the polyandrous species. This signal comes primarily from a decrease in nonsynonymous polymorphism in sperm proteins compared to the rest of the genome, suggesting stronger purifying selection, consistent with selection via sperm competition. Nonfertilizing sperm proteins, in contrast, do not show an effect of mating system and do not appear to evolve differently from the background genome in either species, arguing against the involvement of nonfertilizing sperm in direct sperm competition. Based on our results and previous work, we suggest that nonfertilizing sperm may be used to delay female remating in these insects and decrease the risk of sperm competition rather than directly affect its outcome.