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Rival seminal fluid induces enhanced sperm motility in a polyandrous ant.



Promiscuous mating and sperm competition often induce arms races between the sexes with detrimental outcomes for females. However, ants with multiply-inseminated queens have only a single time-window for sperm competition and queens are predicted to gain control over the outcome of sperm storage quickly. The seminal fluid of Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants reduces the viability of rival sperm, but how confrontations between unrelated ejaculates affect sperm storage remains unknown.


We investigated the effects of ejaculate admixture on sperm motility in A. echinatior and found that the proportion of motile spermatozoa, sperm swimming speed, and linearity of sperm movement increased when rival ejaculates were mixed in vitro. Major effects induced by the seminal fluid of rival males were of similar magnitude to those generated by queen reproductive tract secretions, whereas own seminal fluid induced lower sperm activation levels.


Our results suggest that ant sperm respond via a self-non-self recognition mechanism to similar or shared molecules expressed in the reproductive secretions of both sexes. Lower sperm motility in the presence of own seminal fluid indicates that enhanced motility is costly and may trade-off with sperm viability during sperm storage, consistent with studies in vertebrates. Our results imply that ant spermatozoa have evolved to adjust their energetic expenditure during insemination depending on the perceived level of sperm competition.

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