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Evolution. 2004 May;58(5):1099-107.

Reproductive character displacement of male stickleback mate preference: reinforcement or direct selection?

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  • 1Department of Zoology and Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Reproductive isolation can evolve between species as a byproduct of adaptation to different niches, through reinforcement, and by direct selection on mating preferences. We investigated the potential role of direct selection in the reproductive isolation between sympatric species of threespine sticklebacks. Each sympatric pair consists of a small-bodied limnetic species and large-bodied benthic species. We compared the mate preferences and courtship behavior of males from one sympatric limnetic population and two allopatric populations. We used limnetic-like allopatric populations to control for the effects of ecological character displacement and adaptation to different niches on mate preferences. The sympatric limnetic males preferred the small limnetic females, whereas the allopatric limnetic-like males preferred the large benthic females, suggesting that adaptation to the limnetic niche does not automatically confer a preference for small limnetic females. This reproductive character displacement of male preference is consistent with the predictions of both reinforcement and direct selection on mate preferences. To test for direct selection, we assessed a prediction of one proposed mechanism: predation by benthic females on eggs guarded by limnetic males. The allopatric males come from populations in which there is no egg predation. Sympatric limnetic males were more aggressive toward benthic females than toward limnetic females, whereas the allopatric limnetic-like males did not treat the two types of females differently. The contrast in male behavior suggests that egg predation has shaped male preferences. Direct selection is potentially more effective than indirect selection via reinforcement, and it is likely that it has been important in building up reproductive isolation between limnetic and benthic sticklebacks.

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