Previous experience with a partner can improve reproductive coordination between a pair and increase offspring production. We paired inexperienced zebra finches and investigated how a pairs’ experience and their reproductive success together (i.e., whether they were successful or unsuccessful at rearing chicks) related to the number of sperm reaching the ovum, sperm motile performance, and hatching success. In contrast to unsuccessful pairs, successful pairs increased their relative hatching rates over sequential breeding attempts, with pairs hatching 100% of eggs after successfully fledging their previous clutch. Across the study, hatching failure was primarily due to early embryo death. Further, the number of sperm reaching the perivitelline layer (PVL) significantly decreased after fledging chicks in successful pairs, and overall, less sperm was found on the PVL in successful pairs compared with unsuccessful pairs. Across breeding attempts, males in successful pairs also exhibited a significant decline in sperm swimming speed, whereas it increased over breeding attempts in unsuccessful pairs. Our results support the idea of an optimal level of supernumerary sperm on the avian egg. However, our data suggest that there are likely to be interactions between the quality of a partnership and male sperm traits that may contribute to fitness in socially monogamous birds and that have been largely neglected to date.
Hurley, L. L., Rowe, M., & Griffith, S. C. (2020). Reproductive coordination breeds success: the importance of the partnership in avian sperm biology. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 74(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-019-2782-9