Variation among females in mate choice may influence evolution by sexual selection. The genetic basis of this variation is of interest because the elaboration of mating preferences requires additive genetic variation in these traits. Here we measure the repeatability and heritability of two components of female choosiness (responsiveness and discrimination) and of female preference functions for the multiple ornaments borne by male guppies (Poecilia reticulata). We show that there is significant repeatable variation in both components of choosiness and in some preference functions but not in others. There appear to be several male ornaments that females find uniformly attractive and others for which females differ in preference. One consequence is that there is no universally attractive male phenotype. Only responsiveness shows significant additive genetic variation. Variation in responsiveness appears to mask variation in discrimination and some preference functions and may be the most biologically relevant source of phenotypic and genetic variation in mate-choice behavior. To test the potential evolutionary importance of the phenotypic variation in mate choice that we report, we estimated the opportunity for and the intensity of sexual selection under models of mate choice that excluded and that incorporated individual female variation. We then compared these estimates with estimates based on measured mating success. Incorporating individual variation in mate choice generally did not predict the outcome of sexual selection any better than models that ignored such variation.
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