Sexual selection has repeatedly been shown to be the probable driving force behind the positive Darwinian evolution of genes affecting male reproductive success. Here we compare the sequence evolution of the sperm ligand zonadhesin with body mass dimorphism in primates. In contrast to previous related studies, the present approach takes into account not only catarrhine primates, but also platyrrhines and lemurs. In detail, we analyze the sequence evolution of concatenated zonadhesin fragments (555 bp) of four Lemuroidea, five Platyrrhini, and seven Catarrhini, using the rate ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitutions (dn/ds = ω). Unexpectedly, subsequent regression analyzes between ω estimates for the terminal branches of a primate phylogeny and residual male body mass reveal that sequence evolution of zonadhesin decreases with increasing sexual dimorphism in body weight. Mapping published mating system classifications onto these results illustrates that unimale breeding species show a tendency for rather slow sequence evolution of zonadhesin and comparably pronounced sexual dimorphism in body weight. Female choice and sperm competition can be assumed to drive the evolution of zonadhesin. We speculate that the level of sperm competition is lower in more sexually dimorphic primates because males of these species monopolize access to fertile females more successfully. Thus, variation in sperm competition may be driving the observed negative correlation of sequence evolution and sexual dimorphism in body weight.
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Vol. 61 • No. 2