Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

When females are sexually promiscuous, sexual selection continues after insemination through sperm competition and cryptic female choice, and male traits conveying an advantage in competitive fertilization are selected for. Although individual male and ejaculate traits are known to influence paternity in a competitive scenario, multiple mechanisms co-occur and interact to determine paternity. The way in which different traits interact with each other and the mechanisms through which their heritability is maintained despite selection remain unresolved. In the promiscuous fowl, paternity is determined by the number of sperm inseminated into a female, which is mediated by male social dominance, and by the quality of the sperm inseminated, measured as sperm mobility. Here we show that: (i) the number of sperm inseminated determines how many sperm reach the female sperm-storage sites, and that sperm mobility mediates the fertilizing efficiency of inseminated sperm, mainly by determining the rate at which sperm are released from the female storage sites, (ii) like social status, sperm mobility is heritable, and (iii) subdominant males are significantly more likely to have higher sperm mobility than dominant males. This study indicates that although the functions of social status and sperm mobility are highly interdependent, the lack of phenotypic integration of these traits may maintain the variability of male fitness and heritability of fertilizing efficiency.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





607 - 612


Animals, Animals, Domestic, Chickens, Female, Fertility, Fertilization, Genetic Variation, Male, Phenotype, Social Dominance, Sperm Count, Sperm Motility, Spermatozoa