Where sperm competition occurs, the number and quality of sperm males inseminate relative to rival males influences fertilization success. The number of sperm males produce, however, is limited, and theoretically males should allocate sperm according to the probability of gaining future reproductive opportunities and the reproductive benefits associated with copulations. However, the reproductive opportunities and value of copulations males obtain can change over their lifetime, but whether individuals respond to such changes by adjusting the way they allocate sperm is unclear. Here we show that, in the fowl, Gallus gallus, dominant males, which have preferential access to females, modulate the number of sperm they ejaculate according to the availability of females. When presented with two females, dominant males allocated more sperm to higher quality females, whereas when females were on their own, only copulation order had an affect on their sperm numbers. In contrast, subordinate males, whose mating activity is restricted by dominant males, allocated high numbers of sperm to initial copulations, irrespective of female availability. We further show, by manipulating male social status, that sperm allocation is both phenotypically plastic, with males adjusting their patterns of sperm allocation according to their dominance rank, and intrinsic, with males being consistently different in the way they allocate sperm, once the effects of social status are taken into account. This study suggests that males have evolved sophisticated patterns of sperm allocation to respond to frequent fluctuations in the value and frequency of reproductive opportunities.
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Vol. 60 • No. 7