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

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • B. T. Preston
  • I. R. Stevenson
  • J. M. Pemberton
  • D. W. Coltman
  • Kenneth Wilson
Journal publication date22/03/2003
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Number of pages8
Original languageEnglish


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 post-copulatory 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.