A test for plasticity in sperm motility activation in response to osmotic environment in an anuran amphibian

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Ecology and Evolution


Evolutionary theory predicts that selection will favor phenotypic plasticity in sperm traits that maximize fertilization success in dynamic fertilization environments. In species with external fertilization, osmolality of the fertilization medium is known to play a critical role in activating sperm motility, but evidence for osmotic-induced sperm plasticity is limited to euryhaline fish and marine invertebrates. Whether this capacity extends to freshwater taxa remains unknown. Here, we provide the first test for plasticity in sperm-motility activation in response to osmotic environment in an anuran amphibian. Male common eastern froglets (Crinia signifera) were acclimated to either low (0 mOsmol kg−1) or high (50 mOsmol kg−1) environmental osmolality, and using a split-sample experimental design, sperm were activated across a range of osmolality treatments (0, 25, 50, 75, 100, and 200 ± 2 mOsmol kg−1). Unexpectedly, there was no detectable shift in the optimal osmolality for sperm-motility activation after approximately 13 weeks of acclimation (a period reflecting the duration of the winter breeding season). However, in both the low and high acclimation treatments, the optimal osmolality for sperm-motility activation mirrored the osmolality at the natural breeding site, indicating a phenotypic match to the local environment. Previously it has been shown that C. signifera display among-population covariation between environmental osmolality and sperm performance. Coupled with this finding, the results of the present study suggest that inter-population differences reflect genetic divergence and local adaptation. We discuss the need for experimental tests of osmotic-induced sperm plasticity in more freshwater taxa to better understand the environmental and evolutionary contexts favoring adaptive plasticity in sperm-motility activation.

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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