Secondary sexual ornamentation and non-additive genetic benefits of female mate choice

  • Reid J
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Ornamental secondary sexual traits are hypothesized to evolve in response to directional mating preferences for more ornamented mates. Such mating preferences may themselves evolve partly because ornamentation indicates an individual's additive genetic quality (good genes). While mate choice can also confer non-additive genetic benefits (compatible genes), the identity of the most 'compatible' mate is assumed to depend on the choosy individual's own genotype. It is therefore unclear how choice for non-additive genetic benefits could contribute to directional mating preferences and consequently the evolution of ornamentation. In free-living song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), individual males varied in their kinship with the female population. Furthermore, a male's song repertoire size, a secondary sexual trait, was negatively correlated with kinship such that males with larger repertoires were less closely related to the female population. After excluding close relatives as potential mates, individual females were on average less closely related to males with larger repertoires. Therefore, female song sparrows expressing directional preferences for males with larger repertoires would on average acquire relatively unrelated mates and produce relatively outbred offspring. Such non-additive genetic fitness benefits of directional mating preferences, which may reflect genetic dominance variance expressed in structured populations, should be incorporated into genetic models of sexual selection.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Heterozygosity
  • Inbreeding depression
  • Indirect fitness benefits
  • Intersexual selection
  • Relatedness

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  • Jane M. Reid

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