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Genetica. 2008 Sep;134(1):89-97. Epub 2007 Oct 9.

The capture of heritable variation for genetic quality through social competition.

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  • 1Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, UK. Jason@EvolutionaryGenetics.org


In theory, females of many species choose mates based on traits that are indicators of male genetic quality. A fundamental question in evolutionary biology is why genetic variation for such indicator traits persists despite strong persistent selection imposed by female preference, which is known as the lek paradox. One potential solution to the lek paradox suggests that the traits that are targets of mate choice should evolve condition-dependent expression and that condition should have a large genetic variance. Condition is expected to exhibit high genetic variance because it is affected by a large number of physiological processes and hence, condition-dependent traits should 'capture' variation contributed by a large number of loci. We suggest that a potentially important cause of variation in condition is competition for limited resources. Here, we discuss a pair of models to analyze the evolutionary genetics of traits affected by success in social competition for resources. We show that competition can contribute to genetic variation of 'competition-dependent' traits that have fundamentally different evolutionary properties than other sources of variation. Competition dependence can make traits honest indicators of genetic quality by revealing the relative competitive ability of males, can provide a component of heritable variation that does not contribute to trait evolution, and can help maintain heritable variation under directional selection. Here we provide a general introduction to the concept of competition dependence and briefly introduce two models to demonstrate the potential evolutionary consequences of competition-dependent trait expression.

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