Sexual selection in a moth: effect of symmetry on male mating success in the wild

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Abstract

Sexual selection is generally caused by female choice and male–male competition. In female choice process, female preference is favored indirectly and/or directly by sexual selection. In indirect selection, females expressing the preference might gain indirect genetic benefits. In direct selection, females expressing the preference might gain direct benefits or avoid male-imposed costs. The white-tailed zygaenid moth Elcysma westwoodii is monandrous, and males often gather around a female to mate with her, suggesting a high opportunity for sexual selection on male traits. We quantified phenotypic selection on male morphology in this species in the field. The morphological characters analyzed included body weight, antenna length, forewing length, hind wing length, hind wing tail length, genital clasper length, and the fluctuating asymmetry (FA) of these bilateral traits. In E. westwoodii, selection favored males with more symmetric genital claspers, as well as longer and more symmetrical hind wings and antennae. Negative correlations between FA and size were also detected in the clasper and the antenna. Our results suggest that FAs of male traits, in particular the genital clasper, may have indirect and direct influences on mating success. During a copulatory attempt, an E. westwoodii male will try to grasp the female's abdominal tip with his claspers but often fail to do so because of the female's reluctance to mate. The female abdominal tips are smooth and strongly sclerotized and could thus be difficult for males to grasp. We hypothesize that more symmetrical male claspers are more efficient in overcoming female reluctance.

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