Research area: evolutionary_biology

Convergent evolution of sperm gigantism and the developmental origins of sperm size variability in Caenorhabditis nematodes

Created on 26th April 2016

Anne Vielle; Nicolas Callemeyn-Torre; Clotilde Gimond; Nausicaa Poullet; Jeremy C Gray; Asher D Cutter; Christian Braendle;

Sperm cells provide crucial, if usually diminutive, ingredients to successful sexual reproduction as the source of centrioles and half the diploid genome. Despite this essential conserved function, sperm competition and coevolution with female traits can drive spectacular change in size and shape of these motile cells. Here we characterize four repeated instances of convergent evolution of sperm gigantism in Caenorhabditis nematodes using phylogenetic comparative methods on 26 species. Species at the extreme end of the 50-fold range of sperm-cell volumes across the genus have sperm capable of comprising up to 5% of egg-cell volume, representing severe attenuation of the magnitude of anisogamy. Exploring potential genetic and developmental determinants of Caenorhabditis sperm size variation, we uncover significant differences in mean and variance of sperm size among genotypes, between sexes of androdioecious species, as well as within and between individuals of identical genotypes. We demonstrate that the developmental basis of sperm size variation, both within and between species, becomes established during an early stage of sperm development, i.e. at the formation of primary spermatocytes while subsequent meiotic divisions contribute little further sperm size variability. These findings provide first insights into the developmental determinants of inter- and intraspecific sperm size differences in Caenorhabditis. Together, our results provide a novel integrative view on the developmental and evolutionary origins of Caenorhabditis sperm size variation. We hypothesize that life history and/or ecological differences among species favoured the evolution of alternative sperm competition strategies toward either many smaller sperm or fewer larger sperm, with gigantic sperm potentially providing a means of paternal care via gametic provisioning or as a potent vehicle for sexual conflict over offspring development.

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