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Seminal fluid enhances competitiveness of territorial males sperm in a fish with alternative male reproductive tactics [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Federica Poli, Lisa Locatello, and Maria B. Rasotto

The most common adaptation to sperm competition in males is represented by an increase in the sperm number and/or quality released at mating, to raise their probability of egg fertilization. However, rapidly mounting evidence highlights that seminal fluid may directly influence the competitive fertilization success of a male by affecting either own and/or rival sperm performances. In the black goby, Gobius niger, an external fertilizer with guard-sneaker mating tactics and high sperm competition level, sneaker males’ ejaculates contain less seminal fluid and more sperm, that are also of better quality, than those of territorial males. However, territorial males, gain a higher paternity success inside natural nests. Here, we ask whether the seminal fluid can contribute to territorial males’ reproductive success by enhancing their sperm performances and/or by decreasing those of sneaker males. Using sperm and seminal fluid manipulation and in vitro fertilization tests, we found that own seminal fluid influences the velocity and fertilization ability of sperm only in territorial males, making them as faster as those of sneakers and with similar fertilization rate. Moreover, both sneaker and territorial males’ sperm remain unaffected by the seminal fluid of rival males. Thus, black goby males respond to the different level of sperm competition faced by differently allocating in sperm and non-sperm components of the ejaculate, with sneakers primarily investing in sperm of intrinsic high quality and territorial males relying on the effect of seminal fluid to increase the lower intrinsic quality of their sperm.

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