Theory predicts that males experiencing elevated levels of sperm competition will invest more in gonads and produce faster-swimming sperm. Although there is ample evidence in support of the first prediction, few studies have examined sperm swimming speed in relation to sperm competition. In this study, we tested these predictions from sperm competition theory by examining sperm characteristics in Telmatochromis vittatus, a small shell-brooding cichlid fish endemic to Lake Tanganyika. Males exhibit four different reproductive tactics: pirate, territorial, satellite, and sneaker. Pirate males temporarily displace all other competing males from a shell nest, whereas sneaker males always release sperm in the presence of territorial and satellite males. Due to the fact that sneakers spawn in the presence of another male, sneakers face the highest levels of sperm competition and pirates the lowest, whereas satellites and territorials experience intermediate levels. In accordance with predictions, sperm from sneakers swam faster than sperm from males adopting the other reproductive tactics, whereas sperm from pirates was slowest. Interestingly, we were unable to detect any variation in sperm tail length among these reproductive tactics. Thus, sperm competition appears to have influenced sperm energetics in this species without having any influence on sperm size.
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Vol. 77 • No. 2