Re-Feeding Food-Deprived Male Meadow Voles Affects the Sperm Allocation of Their Rival Males

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An individual's nutritional status affects the manner in which same- and opposite-sex conspecifics respond to that individual, which may affect their fitness. Male meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, increase their sperm allocation if they encounter the scent mark of an unfamiliar male that is not nutritionally challenged. If, however, the scent mark comes from a male that has been food deprived for 24 h, stud male voles do not increase their sperm allocation. Food-deprived males may be viewed as being lower quality and a reduced risk of sperm competition by rival males. We hypothesized that stud males in promiscuous mating systems tailor their sperm allocations depending on whether rival males have been food deprived and then re-fed. We predicted that newly re-fed males will be considered a strong risk of sperm competition because of the potentially high fitness and survival costs associated with food deprivation in males, and that they will cause stud males to increase their sperm allocation. Our results, however, showed that the recovery period from 24 h of food deprivation was a relatively slow process. It took between 96 and 336 h of re-feeding male scent donors that were food deprived for 24 h to induce stud males to increase their sperm allocation to levels comparable to when scent donors were not food deprived. Stud male voles may be conserving the amount of sperm allocated until the male scent donors have recovered from food deprivation and subsequent re-feeding.

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NSF. Grant Number: IOS-0444553; NIH. Grant Number: HD-049525.


This article was originally published as Vaughn, A.A., delBarco-Trillo, J. and Ferkin, M.H. (2012) Re-feeding food-deprived male meadow voles affects the sperm allocation of their rival males. Ethology. 118: 1133-1139.