An Ecology of Sperm: Sperm Diversification by Natural Selection

Klaus Reinhardt, Ralph Dobler, Jessica Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Using basic ecological concepts, we introduce sperm ecology as a framework to stud sperm cells. First, we describe environmental effects on sperm and conclude that evolutionary and ecological research should not neglect the overwhelming evidence presented here (both in external and internal fertilizers and in terrestrial and aquatic habitats) that sperm function is altered by many environments, including the male environment. Second, we determine that the evidence for sperm phenotypic plasticity is overwhelming. Third, we find that genotype-by-environment interaction effects on sperm function exist, but their general adaptive significance (e.g., local adaptation) awaits further research. It remains unresolved whether sperm diversification occurs by natural selection acting on sperm function or by selection on male and female microenvironments that enable optimal plastic performance of sperm (sperm niches). Environmental effects reduce fitness predictability under sperm competition, predict species distributions under global change, explain adaptive behavior, and highlight the role of natural selection in behavioral ecology and reproductive medicine.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-459
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • postcopulatory selection
  • sexually transmitted disease
  • sperm aging
  • sperm competition
  • reactive oxygen species
  • genotype-bv-environment
  • interactions


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