Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evolution of sperm morphology in anurans: insights into the roles of mating system and spawning location

Yu Zeng12, Shang Ling Lou1, Wen Bo Liao1* and Robert Jehle3

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation (Ministry of Education), China West Normal University, Nanchong 637009, P. R. China

2 China Three Gorges Corporation, Beijing 100038, China

3 School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford, Salford M5 4WT, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:104  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-104

Published: 15 May 2014



The degree of postcopulatory sexual selection, comprising variable degrees of sperm competition and cryptic female choice, is an important evolutionary force to influence sperm form and function. Here we investigated the effects of mating system and spawning location on the evolution of sperm morphology in 67 species of Chinese anurans. We also examined how relative testes size as an indicator of the level of sperm competition affected variation in sperm morphology across a subset of 29 species.


We found a significant association of mating system and spawning location with sperm morphology. However, when removing the effects of body mass or absolute testes mass for species for which such data were available, this effect became non-significant. Consistent with predictions from sperm competition theory, we found a positive correlation between sperm morphology and relative testes size after taking phylogeny into account.


Our findings suggest that sexual selection in Chinese anurans favors longer sperm when the level of sperm competition is high. Pre-copulatory male-male competition and spawning location, on the other hand, do not affect the evolution of sperm morphology after taking body mass and absolute testes mass into account.

Anurans; Mating system; Spawning location; Sperm morphology; Sperm competition; Testes size