Heritability of sperm length in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris

doiDOI 10.1007/s10709-005-2157-1


Sperm length is highly variable, both between and within species, but the evolutionary significance of this variation is poorly understood. Sexual selection on sperm length requires a significant additive genetic variance, but few studies have actually measured this. Here we present the first estimates of narrow sense heritability of sperm length in a social insect, the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. In spite of a balanced and straightforward rearing design of colonies, and the possibility to replicate measurements of sperm within single males nested within colonies, the analysis proved to be complex. Several appropriate statistical models were derived, each depending on different assumptions. The heritability estimates obtained ranged from h2 = 0.197+/-0.091 to h2 = 0.429+/-0.154. All our estimates were substantially lower than previous estimates of sperm length heritability in non-social insects and vertebrates.

Key Words

bumblebees, narrow sense heritability, sexual selection, social insects, sperm competition, sperm morphology