Sperm storage in the vertebrate female reproductive tract: how does it work so well?

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The capacity for sperm storage within the female reproductive tract occurs widely across all groups of vertebrate species and is exceptionally well developed in some reptiles (maximum duration, 7 yr) and fish (maximum duration, >1 yr). Amphibians (most salamanders and one species of frog; duration approximately 5 mo), all birds examined to date and some bats, have also evolved the ability to store spermatozoa in the female reproductive tract. Although there are many reports on both the occurrence of female sperm storage and its adaptive benefits, few studies have been directed toward explaining the mechanisms involved. Phylogenetic evidence suggests that the capacity for sperm storage has evolved independently within different taxonomic groups, and it is by no means clear whether these groups have established similar or different mechanisms or whether simple and common principles have been exploited during evolution. If the process has indeed developed by the invention of numerous different and species-specific mechanisms, it is surprising that none have yet been elucidated by technologists wishing to improve the long-term storage of fresh semen. On the other hand, if there is a simple and common solution to the problem, readily accessed by diverse groups of species, it is equally logical to suppose that the mechanism should be easily discovered in the laboratory. While recognizing that studies on wild species are usually neither practically or ethically easy to undertake, it is clear that there is a huge and largely unexplored field to be investigated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-722
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


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