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Evolution. 2005 Mar;59(3):658-71.

Correlational selection leads to genetic integration of body size and an attractive plumage trait in dark-eyed juncos.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.


When a trait's effect on fitness depends on its interaction with other traits, the resultant selection is correlational and may lead to the integration of functionally related traits. In relation to sexual selection, when an ornamental trait interacts with phenotypic quality to determine mating success, correlational sexual selection should generate genetic correlations between the ornament and quality, leading to the evolution of honest signals. Despite its potential importance in the evolution of signal honesty, correlational sexual selection has rarely been measured in natural populations. In the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), males with experimentally elevated values of a plumage trait (whiteness in the tail or "tail white") are more attractive to females and dominant in aggressive encounters over resources. We used restricted maximum-likelihood analysis of a long-term dataset to measure the heritability of tail white and two components of body size (wing length and tail length), as well as genetic correlations between pairs of these traits. We then used multiple regression to assess directional, quadratic, and correlational selection as they acted on tail white and body size via four components of lifetime fitness (juvenile and adult survival, mating success, and fecundity). We found a positive genetic correlation between tail white and body size (as measured by wing length), which indicates past correlational selection. Correlational selection, which was largely due to sexual selection on males, was also found to be currently acting on the same pair of traits. Larger males with whiter tails sired young with more females, most likely due to a combination of female choice, which favors males with whiter tails, and male-male competition, which favors both tail white and larger body size. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show both genetic correlations between sexually selected traits and currently acting correlational sexual selection, and we suggest that correlational sexual selection frequently may be an important mechanism for maintaining the honesty of sexual signals.

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