Sexual selection, phenotypic plasticity and female reproductive output
Fox, R. J., Fromhage, L., & Jennions, M. D. (2019). Sexual selection, phenotypic plasticity and female reproductive output. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374(1768), Article 20180184. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2018.0184
© 2019 The Author(s)
In a rapidly changing environment, does sexual selection on males elevate a population's reproductive output? If so, does phenotypic plasticity enhance or diminish any such effect? We outline two routes by which sexual selection can influence the reproductive output of a population: a genetic correlation between male sexual competitiveness and female lifetime reproductive success; and direct effects of males on females' breeding success. We then discuss how phenotypic plasticity of sexually selected male traits and/or female responses (e.g. plasticity in mate choice), as the environment changes, might influence how sexual selection affects a population's reproductive output. Two key points emerge. First, condition-dependent expression of male sexual traits makes it likely that sexual selection increases female fitness if reproductively successful males disproportionately transfer genes that are under natural selection in both sexes, such as genes for foraging efficiency. Condition-dependence is a form of phenotypic plasticity if some of the variation in net resource acquisition and assimilation is attributable to the environment rather than solely genetic in origin. Second, the optimal allocation of resources into different condition-dependent traits depends on their marginal fitness gains. As male condition improves, this can therefore increase or, though rarely highlighted, actually decrease the expression of sexually selected traits. It is therefore crucial to understand how condition determines male allocation of resources to different sexually selected traits that vary in their immediate effects on female reproductive output (e.g. ornaments versus coercive behaviour). In addition, changes in the distribution of condition among males as the environment shifts could reduce phenotypic variance in certain male traits, thereby reducing the strength of sexual selection imposed by females. Studies of adaptive evolution under rapid environmental change should consider the possibility that phenotypic plasticity of sexually selected male traits, even if it elevates male fitness, could have a negative effect on female reproductive output, thereby increasing the risk of population extinction. ...
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