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Intra-specific variation of sperm length in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae: males with shorter sperm have higher reproductive success

Maarten J Voordouw123*, Jacob C Koella2 and Hilary Hurd3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Station CSC, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3N5, Canada

2 Division of Biology, Imperial College of London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7PY, UK

3 Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology, School of Life Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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Malaria Journal 2008, 7:214  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-7-214

Published: 21 October 2008



Intra-specific variation in sperm length influences male reproductive success in several species of insects. In males of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae, sperm length is highly variable but the significance of this variation is unknown. Understanding what determines the reproductive success of male mosquitoes is critical for controlling malaria, and in particular for replacing natural populations with transgenic, malaria-resistant mosquitoes.


A laboratory population of A. gambiae males was tested for intra-specific variation in sperm length. A full-sib quantitative genetic design was used to test for a genetic component of sperm length in A. gambiae males and estimate its heritability. This study also tested for a relationship between sperm length and male reproductive success in A. gambiae. Male reproductive success was measured as the proportions of inseminated and ovipositing females.


There was intra-specific variation of sperm length in A. gambiae. There was no significant genetic variation in sperm length and its heritability was low (h2 = 0.18) compared to other insects. Sperm length was correlated with male body size (measured as wing length). Males with short sperm had significantly higher reproductive success than males with long sperm and this was independent of body size.


This is the first study to demonstrate intra-specific variation in sperm length in A. gambiae and that males with short sperm have higher reproductive success. That sperm length influences female oviposition is important for any strategy considering the release of transgenic males.