Sperm length variation among Afrotropical songbirds reflects phylogeny rather than adaptations to the tropical environment

Sperm cells vary tremendously in size and shape across the animal kingdom. In songbirds (Aves: Passeri), sperm have a characteristic helical form but vary considerably in size. Most of our knowledge about sperm morphology in this group stems from studies of species in the Northern temperate zone, while little is known about the numerous species in the tropics. Here we examined sperm size in 125 Afrotropical songbird species with emphasis on the length of the major structural components (head, midpiece, flagellum), and total sperm length measured using light microscopy. Mean total sperm length varied from 51 Ám to 212 Ám across species. Those belonging to the Corvoidea superfamily had relatively short sperm with a small midpiece, while those of the three major Passeridan superfamilies Passeroidea, Muscicapoidea and Sylvioidea showed large interspecific variation in total sperm length and associated variation in midpiece length. These patterns are consistent with previous findings for temperate species in the same major clades. A comparative analysis with songbird species from the Northern temperate zone (N = 139) showed large overlap in sperm length ranges although certain temperate families (e.g. Parulidae, Emberizidae) typically have long sperm and certain Afrotropical families (e.g. Cisticolidae, Estrildidae) have relatively short sperm. Afrotropical and temperate species belonging to the same families showed no consistent contrasts in sperm length. Sperm length variation among Afrotropical and Northern temperate songbirds exhibits a strong phylogenetic signal with little or no evidence for any directional latitudinal effect among closely related taxa.