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Sperm competition is the competition between the ejaculates of different males for the fertilization of a given set of ova. Charles Darwin (1871) proposed sexual selection as a process that operates on variation in male ability to compete with other males for access to reproductive opportunities, and which promotes traits that confer an advantage in reproductive competition. In most taxa individual females may copulate (or spawn) with multiple males (i.e., are polyandrous). As a consequence, the ejaculates of different males may co-occur around a set of ova at the time of fertilization, resulting in sperm competition. Sperm competition introduces variation in male reproductive success determined by the relative competitive fertilizing efficiency of the ejaculates of different males, and generates postcopulatory, intrasexual selection, which promotes traits that increase the fertilization success of an ejaculate under competitive conditions. A second consequence of polyandry is the potential for intersexual selection to continue after copulation through mechanisms that enable females (or ova) to bias the outcome of sperm competition in favor of the sperm of certain males, a process known as sperm selection or cryptic female choice. The past three decades have seen an explosion of interest in postcopulatory sexual selection that has highlighted the importance of sperm competition and cryptic female choice as engines of evolutionary change. This chapter reviews recent empirical and theoretical advances to discuss various ways in which sperm competition may shape the evolution of sperm and ejaculate traits. © 2009 Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication





Book title

Sperm Biology

Publication Date



207 - 245