Attendance, but not performance, predicts good genes in a lek-breeding treefrog

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According to the good-genes hypothesis, females prefer males with costly displays because the costs are reliable indicators of genetic quality. In leks, mating costs result from a multiplicative interaction between the number of display performances (lek attendance) and the energetic expenditure associated with each display performance. If males differ in their allocation strategies between the 2 components of mating effort, the reliability of display performance as an indicator of genetic quality may be disrupted. Here, we investigate the association between male genetic quality and both lek attendance and display performance in the Italian treefrog, Hyla intermedia. We recorded lek attendance and display performance (nightly calling effort) during 2 breeding seasons, and we set up a breeding experiment to evaluate sire effects on 3 larval fitness-related traits (growth rate, age, and size at metamorphosis). Attendance and calling effort were positively correlated with each other and both with male mating success, providing no evidence for a performance-attendance trade-off at the population level. In the breeding experiment, we found some evidence for an effect of sire identity and attendance on growth rate and age at metamorphosis, but no evidence for an effect of sire calling effort. We conclude that female preference, by imposing high-quality standards for calling males, strengthens the role of endurance rivalry in male mating competition, indirectly favoring males of higher-than-average mating effort. Under this scenario, although male displays are unreliable indicators of mating quality, females nevertheless gain benefits because of the reduced risk of coming on low-quality males.

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