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Nature. 2000 Jul 13;406(6792):186-8.

Condition-dependent signalling of genetic variation in stalk-eyed flies.

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Department of Biology, University College London, UK.


Handicap models of sexual selection predict that male sexual ornaments have strong condition-dependent expression and this allows females to evaluate male genetic quality. A number of previous experiments have demonstrated heightened condition-dependence of sexual ornaments in response to environmental stress. Here we show that genetic variation underlies the response to environmental stress (variable food quality) of a sexual ornament (male eye span) in the stalk-eyed fly Cyrtodiopsis dalmanni. Some male genotypes develop large eye span under all conditions, whereas other genotypes progressively reduce eye span as conditions deteriorate. Several non-sexual traits (female eye span, male and female wing length) also show genetic variation in condition-dependent expression, but their genetic response is entirely explained by scaling with body size. In contrast, the male sexual ornament still reveals genetic variation in the response to environmental stress after accounting for differences in body size. These results strongly support the hypothesis that female mate choice yields genetic benefits for offspring.

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