What use is an infertile sperm? A comparative test of parasperm function in sperm-heteromorphic Drosophila


Sperm size and number are important determinants of male reproductive success. The genus Drosophila exhibits a remarkable diversity of sperm production strategies, including the production of multiple sperm morphs by individual males, a phenomenon called sperm heteromorphism. Sperm-heteromorphic Drosophila species in the obscura group produce large numbers of infertile ‘parasperm’ in addition to fertile eusperm. Parasperm have been hypothesized to perform a number of roles in place of fertilization, predominantly focused on their potential function in postcopulatory sexual selection. However, the evolutionary significance of parasperm remains unknown. Here we measured several male and female morphological, behavioral, and life-history traits in 13 obscura group species to test competing hypotheses of parasperm function using comparative methods. We found that parasperm size was unrelated to female reproductive tract morphology but was negatively related to our two indices of sperm competition, suggesting that postcopulatory sexual selection may indeed have shaped the evolution of parasperm. We also found abundant coevolution between male and female reproductive traits. Some of these relationships have been found in both spermmonomorphic and sperm-heteromorphic taxa, but others are dissimilar. We discuss the significance of our results to the evolution of reproductive traits and the elusive function of Drosophila parasperm.