Experimental heatwaves negatively impact sperm quality in the zebra finch

Laura L. Hurley*, Callum S. McDiarmid, Christopher R. Friesen, Simon C. Griffith, Melissah Rowe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


For sexually reproducing species, functionally competent sperm are critical to reproduction. While high atmospheric temperatures are known to influence the timing of breeding, incubation and reproductive success in birds, the effect of temperature on sperm quality remains largely unexplored. Here, we experimentally investigated the impact of ecologically relevant extreme temperatures on cloacal temperature and sperm morphology and motility in zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata. We periodically sampled males exposed to 30°C or 40°C temperatures daily for 14 consecutive days. Following a 12-day (23°C) recovery period, birds were again exposed to heat, but under the alternate treatment (e.g. birds initially exposed to 40°C were exposed to 30°C). Elevated temperatures led to an increase in cloacal temperature and a reduction in the proportion of sperm with normal morphology; these effects were most notable under 40°C conditions, and were influenced by the duration of heat exposure and prior exposure to high temperature. Our findings highlight the potential role of temperature in determining male fertility in birds, and perhaps also in constraining the timing of avian breeding. Given the increased frequency of heatwaves in a warming world, our results suggest the need for further work on climatic influences on sperm quality and male fertility.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20172547
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1871
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2018


  • Avian reproduction
  • Climate change
  • Heatwave
  • Male fertility
  • Sperm morphology
  • Sperm swimming speed


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