Summary We examined the hypothesis that trematode parasites played a role in the evolution of the red colour of male threespine sticklebacks ( Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) and whether the parasites affected female fitness. Parasites (‘blackspot’ disease) played no role either in determining the outcome of male—male competition for breeding territories or in female mate choice. Among males with territories, mating success was highly variable. Some males obtained over 3000 eggs (approximately 10 matings) whereas others received none. In 1 year of the 2 year study, males with the greatest amount of red nuptial coloration had the greatest mating success. Although male colour may sometimes affect female choice in this system, this preference has probably not evolved because of the Hamilton—Zuk mechanism of sexual selection. The parasites had small, but statistically significant effects on female fitness. Females with high parasite loads were in poorer condition and produced fewer eggs than less parasitized fish.
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