Mating strategies and sperm competition in New Zealand geckos (Family Gekkonidae)

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Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. Zoology
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Todd, Amanda Claire

Most species of reptile studied to date have polygynandrous mating systems and possess specialised sperm storage regions. Consequently, there is a high potential for sperm competition in this group. Using comparative analyses, I examined the level of sperm competition in New Zealand geckos and how this has influenced the evolution of their reproductive morphology. Across lizards and snakes, there was more than a 40-fold variation in relative testis size. New Zealand geckos fell in the middle of this range and lacked sexual dimorphism in head size, suggesting that most species have polygynandrous mating systems. I confirmed this for one species, Hoplodactylus maculatus, which is gregarious, lacks territoriality and has a courtship pattern that suggests a high level of promiscuity for both sexes. I found that hemipenis size in New Zealand geckos was positively correlated with relative testis size, suggesting that sperm competition has resulted in the evolution of larger intromittent organs. However, the surface features of the hemipenis were relatively conservative across species. Although there was no relationship between sperm length or putative sperm storage site (SST) morphology and relative testis size, species with fewer SSTs, and thus more intense sperm competition, had longer sperm. H. maculatus males produced two types of sperm which differed not only in length but also in fertilising capacity, the short morph lacking DNA. This is the first known example of such sperm polymorphism in a vertebrate and may have evolved in response to sperm competition, the non-fertilising morph potentially helping to block the sperm of rival males or filling sperm storage sites. The motility of these short sperm was positively correlated with temperature; however, at higher temperatures motility declined with time, suggesting a trade-off between motility and longevity. Such temperature influences on male reproductive physiology have important implications for males of ectothermic species under sperm competition.

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Copyright Amanda Claire Todd