Relative fitness of alternative male reproductive tactics in a mammal varies between years

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Summary1. In many species, males can use different behavioural tactics to achieve fertilization, so-called alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). Few field studies have measured fitness consequences of ARTs under varying environmental conditions.2. Here, we describe fitness consequences of three phenotypically plastic ARTs in the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) and show that relative fitness of ARTs differs between years. Each year represents a different generation.3. For the generation living under high population density, tactics differed in relative fitness in accordance with the theory of conditional strategies, with highly successful territorial breeding males having 10 times higher success than solitary roaming males and 102 times higher success than adult natally philopatric males.4. For the generation living under intermediate population density, the territorial breeding and roaming tactics yielded similar fitness, which would be in agreement with the theory of mixed strategies. No philopatric males occurred.5. For the generation living under low population density, roaming was the only tactic used and some roamers had very high fitness.6. The main prediction of status-dependent selection for conditional strategies is a correlation between fitness and status, often measured as body mass, but we did not find this correlation within tactics when more than one tactic was expressed in the population.7. Female distribution seems to have an effect on which reproductive tactics male chose: female defence polygyny when females are clumped (interference competition), but a searching tactic when females are dispersed (scramble competition). In contrast to predictions arising from theory on scramble competition, male body mass was important in determining fitness only in the year when females were dispersed, but not in other years.8. Our results indicate that the differentiation between conditional and mixed strategies is not an absolute one. In many other species, environmental conditions might fluctuate temporally and spatially so that the normally suboptimal tactic yields similar fitness to the (usually) dominant tactic or that only a single tactic prevails.9. We suggest the term single strategy, independent of current fitness consequences, for systems where tactics are not genetically determined, in contrast to genetically determined alternative strategies.

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