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Flagellum tapering and midpiece volume in songbird spermatozoa

Cite this dataset

Cramer, Emily; Lifjeld, Jan T.; Grønstøl, Gaute (2022). Flagellum tapering and midpiece volume in songbird spermatozoa [Dataset]. Dryad.


In contrast to numerous studies on spermatozoa length, relatively little work focuses on the width of spermatozoa, particularly the width of the midpiece and flagellum. In flagellated spermatozoa, the flagellum provides forward thrust while energy may be provided via mitochondria in the midpiece and/or through glycolysis along the flagellum itself. Longer flagella may be able to provide greater thrust but may also require stronger structural features and more or larger mitochondria to supply sufficient energy. Here we use SEM imaging to investigate the ultrastructure of spermatozoa from 55 passerine species in 26 taxonomic families in the Passerides infraorder. Our data confirm the qualitative observation that the flagellum tapers along its length, and we show that longer flagella are wider at the neck. This pattern is similar to mammals, and likely reflects the need for longer cells to be stronger against shearing forces. We further estimate the volume of the mitochondrial helix and show that it correlates well with midpiece length, supporting the use of midpiece length as a proxy for mitochondrial volume, at least in between-species studies where midpiece length is highly variable. These results provide important context for understanding the evolutionary correlations among different sperm cell components and dimensions.


In essence, we measured the width of the flagellum and the flagellum + mitochondrial helix at many points along the cells, as well as measured the major axis of the mitochondrial helix. Our main dataset used multiple 4000 x SEM images stitched together. Please see the paper for full methodological details. 

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The Research Council of Norway, Award: 301592