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PLoS One

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Sperm competition leads to increased sperm production in many taxa. This response may result from increases in testes size, changes in testicular architecture or changes in the kinetics of spermatogenesis, but the impact of each one of these processes on sperm production has not been studied in an integrated manner. Furthermore, such response may be limited in species with low mass-specific metabolic rate (MSMR), i.e., large-bodied species, because they cannot process energy and resources efficiently enough both at the organismic and cellular levels. Here we compare 99 mammalian species and show that higher levels of sperm competition correlated with a) higher proportions of seminiferous tubules, b) shorter seminiferous epithelium cycle lengths (SECL) which reduce the time required to produce sperm, and c) higher efficiencies of Sertoli cells (involved in sperm maturation). These responses to sperm competition, in turn, result in higher daily sperm production, more sperm stored in the epididymides, and more sperm in the ejaculate. However, the two processes that require processing resources at faster rates (SECL and efficiency of Sertoli cells) only respond to sperm competition in species with high MSMR. Thus, increases in sperm production with intense sperm competition occur via a complex network of mechanisms, but some are constrained by MSMR.

Funding Source

This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (grants CGL-2011-26341 to ERSR and CGL2012-37423 to JdT). JdT was supported by a Ramón y Cajal fellowship (RYC-2011-07943) whereas MT was supported by a "Juan de la Cierva" fellowship (JCI-2011-10381), both from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.


Initially published in PLoS ONE 8(9): e76510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076510.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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