Experimental evidence that high levels of inbreeding depress sperm competitiveness

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The effects of inbreeding on sperm quantity and quality are among the most dramatic examples of inbreeding depression. The extent to which inbreeding depression results in decreased fertilization success of a male’s sperm, however, remains largely unknown. This task is made more difficult by the fact that other factors, such as cryptic female choice, male sperm allocation and mating order, can also drive patterns of paternity. Here, we use artificial insemination to eliminate these extraneous sources of variation and to measure the effects of inbreeding on the competitiveness of a male’s sperm. We simultaneously inseminated female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) with equal amounts of sperm from an outbred (f = 0) male and either a highly (f = 0.59) or a moderately inbred (f = 0.25) male. Highly inbred males sired significantly fewer offspring than outbred males, but share of paternity did not differ between moderately inbred and outbred males. These findings therefore confirm that severe inbreeding can impair the competitiveness of sperm, but suggest that in the focal population inbreeding at order of a brother–sister mating does not reduce a male’s sperm competitiveness.

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