Mate-sampling costs and sexy sons

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Abstract

Costly female mating preferences for purely Fisherian male traits (i.e. sexual ornaments that are genetically uncorrelated with inherent viability) are not expected to persist at equilibrium. The indirect benefit of producing ‘sexy sons’ (Fisher process) disappears: in some models, the male trait becomes fixed; in others, a range of male trait values persist, but a larger trait confers no net fitness advantage because it lowers survival. Insufficient indirect selection to counter the direct cost of producing fewer offspring means that preferences are lost. The only well-cited exception assumes biased mutation on male traits. The above findings generally assume constant direct selection against female preferences (i.e. fixed costs). We show that if mate-sampling costs are instead derived based on an explicit account of how females acquire mates, an initially costly mating preference can coevolve with a male trait so that both persist in the presence or absence of biased mutation. Our models predict that empirically detecting selection at equilibrium will be difficult, even if selection was responsible for the location of the current equilibrium. In general, it appears useful to integrate mate sampling theory with models of genetic consequences of mating preferences: being explicit about the process by which individuals select mates can alter equilibria.

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