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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Apr 26;102(17):6045-50. Epub 2005 Apr 19.

Genetic variance in female condition predicts indirect genetic variance in male sexual display traits.

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  • 1School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia.


During sexual encounters, individuals often use signals, such as display traits, to attract mates. If individuals alter their display traits with respect to the genotype of potential mates, indirect genetic effects (IGEs) may occur in which the genes of one individual influence the phenotype of another. Although IGEs between related individuals have received much attention, their occurrence between unrelated individuals during sexual encounters has not. Here, we demonstrate that in the Australian fruit fly Drosophila serrata, males assess females by using both visual and olfactory cues, resulting in a rapid plastic response (within minutes) in male cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), a display trait that is an important target of mate choice. Several CHCs in males exhibited significant IGEs, and IGEs were inducible on both males reared in the laboratory and on field-caught individuals. A vector describing genetic variance in multiple CHCs in females was found to be almost identical to a vector describing indirect genetic variance in male CHCs, suggesting that males might assess female CHCs during courtship. This vector displayed contributions from all female CHCs in the same direction and of similar magnitude, suggesting that female condition may be the underlying casual trait that males are assessing. Consistent with this interpretation, when measured directly in a separate experiment, genetic variance in female condition accounted for 19.8% of the indirect genetic variance in male CHCs. These indirect genetic effects have the potential to alter the response to selection of male sexual display traits.

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