All posts by Rachana Bhave

SICB 2018: Bigger Testes Don’t Produce Bigger Sperm

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In the face of mate competition, sperm morphology can vary in a way that can enhance an individual’s chances of siring offspring of females. Studies in the past have attributed increased relative testis size as an approximate measure of an individual’s response to sperm competition. However, this does not take into account the internal architecture of the male testes that may contribute to changes in sperm morphology.

This was the focus of a poster presented by Hanna Hall titled “The evolution of sperm and testis morphology in Anolis lizards” in collaboration with Ariel Kahrl and Michelle Johnson. The authors sampled 2-20 individuals of different species of anoles in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. They compared body size, sperm length ( 15 cells per individual), and the composition and size of various layers of the testis, by conducting a phylogenetic least squares regression on the average values obtained for each species.

The authors found that larger body size was associated with a larger testis size, which was in turn correlated with presence of large seminiferous tubules and a larger luminal area, where mature sperm are stored. Contrary to their expectation though, none of these aspects were associated with producing longer sperm. Further the Gonado-Somatic index (GSI), a common metric that serves as an indicator of relative testis size, was not correlated with any aspects of the internal testis architecture.

An interesting finding in this study was that species with a higher proportion of epithelial cells in the testis produced longer sperm. This result was surprising because larger number of epidermal cells may be associated with smaller spermatogonal cells, which would be predicted to form shorter sperm. The authors suggest that the correlation between lumen area and testis size may result because investment in sperm storage is more important, and that species may be producing large number of sperm which may be longer in length. Nevertheless, more data is needed to understand how changes in sperm morphology affect fertilization success and, further, under what circumstances does size and count of epithelial cells vary. The lack of correspondence of these results with that  shown in birds by Lupold et al. 2008 suggests that the mechanisms underlying sperm competition may be taxa or species-specific. We will be eyeing the Johnson Lab for more details on the same in the coming years.

SICB 2018: Role of Testosterone in Mediating Female Aggression in Anolis Lizards

An example of an aggressive display by a lizard. Photo Credits: Neil Losin Photography

An example of an aggressive display by a lizard. Photo Credits: Neil Losin Photography

Testosterone has long been though to influence male aggression behaviors. But can this same hormone influence aggressive behaviors in females too? Ellee Cook addressed this question in her talk titled “Investigating the potential for testosterone to mediate territorial aggression in female Anolis lizards.”

Ellee focused on studying a population of Anolis gundlachi in the forests of Puerto Rico. Ellee studied the response of focal females to a staged territorial intrusion by another female who was placed on a cage lid, and compared it to a scenario where she directly approached the lizard. She captured the focal females after twenty minutes of the trial and measured their size and took a blood sample to estimate the circulating levels of testosterone. Her prediction was that higher levels of aggression would be correlated with higher levels of testosterone.

Her data showed that females were indeed aggressive towards intruding females and had much higher displays of aggression in comparison to when they were presented only a lid or were directly approached. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), testosterone was not a significant predictor of female aggression. In fact, none of the hormonal measures corresponded to female aggression. This finding could have resulted for several reasons: A) the amount of testosterone detected in females was much lower than that found in males, making variation in testosterone  almost impossible to detect; B) High aggression may be caused by spontaneous spikes in testosterone that may be hard to detect; C) Female aggression may be governed by a completely different mechanism.

This study raises an important question about the relevance and drawbacks of existing paradigms which are male-centric and thus cloud our understanding when it comes to female behaviors. Cheers to more feminist paradigms in biology!