Metabolic Rate Limits the Effect of Sperm Competition on Mammalian Spermatogenesis

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Abstract

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.

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delBarco-Trillo, J., Tourmente, M., & Roldan, E. R. S. (2013). Metabolic Rate Limits the Effect of Sperm Competition on Mammalian Spermatogenesis. PLoS ONE, 8(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0076510

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