In many animals reproductive success is determined after insemination by the interaction of male and female processes. While sperm competition is reasonably well understood in some taxa, other processes, such as cryptic female choice and differential early embryo mortality resulting from genetic incompatibilities, are less well understood. The relative importance of these different factors contributing to reproductive success is difficult to assess. Here we control for male-mediated effects (which are often considerable and can mask more subtle processes) through the artificial insemination of known numbers of sperm in the domestic fowl to reveal that male reproductive success is nontransitive across females: the success of a particular male depends on the background against which his sperm compete for fertilization. Two potential processes could account for this effect: cryptic female choice (sperm choice) or differential early embryo mortality. Regardless of the mechanism, nontransitivity of male reproductive success has important evolutionary consequences, including the maintenance of variation in male fitness.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2