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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):15925-30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105721108. Epub 2011 Sep 12.

Sex-ratio control erodes sexual selection, revealing evolutionary feedback from adaptive plasticity.

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Theoretical Biology Group, University of Groningen, 9700 CC, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Female choice is a powerful selective force, driving the elaboration of conspicuous male ornaments. This process of sexual selection has profound implications for many life-history decisions, including sex allocation. For example, females with attractive partners should produce more sons, because these sons will inherit their father's attractiveness and enjoy high mating success, thereby yielding greater fitness returns than daughters. However, previous research has overlooked the fact that there is a reciprocal feedback from life-history strategies to sexual selection. Here, using a simple mathematical model, we show that if mothers adaptively control offspring sex in relation to their partner's attractiveness, sexual selection is weakened and male ornamentation declines. This weakening occurs because the ability to determine offspring sex reduces the fitness difference between females with attractive and unattractive partners. We use individual-based, evolutionary simulations to show that this result holds under more biologically realistic conditions. Sexual selection and sex allocation thus interact in a dynamic fashion: The evolution of conspicuous male ornaments favors sex-ratio adjustment, but this conditional strategy then undermines the very same process that generated it, eroding sexual selection. We predict that, all else being equal, the most elaborate sexual displays should be seen in species with little or no control over offspring sex. The feedback process we have described points to a more general evolutionary principle, in which a conditional strategy weakens directional selection on another trait by reducing fitness differences.

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