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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 March 22; 270(1515): 633–640.
PMCID: PMC1691283

Overt and covert competition in a promiscuous mammal: the importance of weaponry and testes size to male reproductive success.

Abstract

Male contests for access to receptive females are thought to have selected for the larger male body size and conspicuous weaponry frequently observed in mammalian species. However, when females copulate with multiple males within an oestrus, male reproductive success is a function of both pre- and postcopulatory strategies. The relative importance of these overt and covert forms of sexual competition has rarely been assessed in wild populations. The Soay sheep mating system is characterized by male contests for mating opportunities and high female promiscuity. We find that greater horn length, body size and good condition each independently influence a male's ability to monopolize receptive females. For males with large horns at least, this behavioural success translates into greater siring success. Consistent with sperm-competition theory, we also find that larger testes are independently associated with both higher copulation rates and increased siring success. This advantage of larger testes emerges, and strengthens, as the number of oestrous females increases, as dominant males can no longer control access to them all. Our results thus provide direct quantitative evidence that male reproductive success in wild populations of mammals is dependent upon the relative magnitude of both overt contest competition and covert sperm competition.

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Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society