Biological fitness trumps other traits in mating game

Jun 19, 2013
Biological fitness trumps other traits in mating game
Diverging color patterns on the wings of Heliconius butterflies are an example of fitness-related traits that females have evolved to prefer. Credit: Mathieu Joron

When a new species emerges following adaptive changes to its local environment, the process of choosing a mate can help protect the new species' genetic identity and increase the likelihood of its survival. But of the many observable traits in a potential mate, which particular traits does a female tend to prefer?

A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and finds that a female's mating decisions are largely based on traits that reflect fitness or those that help males perform well under the local ecological conditions.

Males' bright colors, flashy ornaments, and elaborate songs are examples of fitness-related traits that females appear to have evolved to prefer, according to the study, which appears in the journal Ecology Letters.

An example of these fitness-related traits can be found in the tropical Heliconius butterfly, where diverging color patterns on the butterflies' wings influence mate choice and hence divergence of populations. Another example are Darwin's finches, whose beaks evolved over millions of years with changes in birdsong, an important mating signal, and thus contributed to the rise of new and distinct finch species.

The study settles a long debate in about the surprising commonality of traits that play a crucial role in both survival and mate choice. It was previously thought that such traits were uncommon and were thus named "magic traits." However, in unraveling the trick behind the so-called magic traits, the study predicts that these magic traits are far more common in nature than expected, and in fact, predicts that female mating preferences may reflect forces of natural selection that were in place during the origin of the species.

"Even if the link between survival and is not there to start with, it will probably evolve," said lead author Xavier Thibert-Plante.

Understanding the biological basis of mating behavior is important because it can shed light on how species boundaries are formed and maintained.

"Mating preference is crucial for the evolution of new species because it reduces, and may in some cases eliminate hybridization, which can produce offspring of mixed ancestry, slowing down or reversing adaptation and differentiation among emerging species," Thibert-Plante explained.

Explore further: The influence of the Isthmus of Panama in the evolution of freshwater shrimps in America

More information: Thibert-Plante X, Gavrilets S. 2013. Evolution of mate choice and the so called magic traits in ecological speciation. Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12131

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Reversal of the black widow myth

May 06, 2013

The Black Widow spider gets its name from the popular belief that female spiders eat their male suitors after mating. However, a new study has shown that the tendency to consume a potential mate is also true of some types ...

The mechanics of speciation

Jun 24, 2011

Mate choice, competition, and the variety of resources available are the key factors influencing how a species evolves into separate species, according to a new mathematical model that integrates all three factors to reveal ...

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

Nov 26, 2014

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

Nov 26, 2014

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

Nov 26, 2014

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.