Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lek paradox, male secondary-sexual traits, and maternal influences

A potential resolution to the lek paradox through indirect genetic effects

Christine W. Miller AFF1 and Allen J. Moore

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: First Cite Early Online

Females often prefer males with elaborate traits, even when they receive no direct benefits from their choice. In such situations, mate discrimination presumably has genetic advantages; selective females will produce offspring of higher genetic quality. Over time, persistent female preferences for elaborate secondary-sexual traits in males should erode genetic variance in these traits, eventually eliminating any benefit to the preferences. Yet, strong female preferences persist in many taxa. This puzzle is called the lek paradox and raises two primary questions: do females obtain genetic benefits for offspring by selecting males with elaborate secondary-sexual characteristics and, if so, how is the genetic variation in these male traits maintained? We suggest that indirect genetic effects may help to resolve the lek paradox. Maternal phenotypes, such as habitat selection behaviours and offspring provisioning, often influence the condition and the expression of secondary-sexual traits in sons. These maternal influences are commonly genetic based (i.e. they are indirect genetic effects). Females choosing mates with elaborate traits may receive ‘good genes’ for daughters in the form of effective maternal characteristics. Recognizing the significance of indirect genetic effects may be important to our understanding of the process and consequences of sexual selection.

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