The evolution of leks (aggregations of males displaying to females) cannot be explained solely by an increasing average gain in matings for each male as group size increases. This is because the mating skew, that is, the inequality among males in mating success, is often high and may vary with lek size. Here, we show that the common observation that matings become more evenly divided as lek size increases is also insufficient to explain by itself the benefits of aggregating. The benefits to individual males are highly sensitive to the exact relationship between mating skew and lek size, and very similar relationships can lead to opposite predictions concerning individual benefits. With data on published mating success for 18 species (71 leks), we show that different species have very similar skew versus lek size relationships. With current sample sizes, however, there is insufficient statistical power to distinguish between completely different alternatives concerning individual optima of males.
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