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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Intrasexual competition facilitates the evolution of alternative mating strategies in a colour polymorphic fish

Jorge L Hurtado-Gonzales1* and J Albert C Uy2

Author Affiliations

1 Life Sciences Complex 234, Department of Biology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244, USA

2 Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:391  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-391

Published: 23 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Intense competition for access to females can lead to males exploiting different components of sexual selection, and result in the evolution of alternative mating strategies (AMSs). Males of Poecilia parae, a colour polymorphic fish, exhibit five distinct phenotypes: drab-coloured (immaculata), striped (parae), structural-coloured (blue) and carotenoid-based red and yellow morphs. Previous work indicates that immaculata males employ a sneaker strategy, whereas the red and yellow morphs exploit female preferences for carotenoid-based colours. Mating strategies favouring the maintenance of the other morphs remain to be determined. Here, we report the role of agonistic male-male interactions in influencing female mating preferences and male mating success, and in facilitating the evolution of AMSs.

Results

Our study reveals variation in aggressiveness among P. parae morphs during indirect and direct interactions with sexually receptive females. Two morphs, parae and yellow, use aggression to enhance their mating success (i.e., number of copulations) by 1) directly monopolizing access to females, and 2) modifying female preferences after winning agonistic encounters. Conversely, we found that the success of the drab-coloured immaculata morph, which specializes in a sneak copulation strategy, relies in its ability to circumvent both male aggression and female choice when facing all but yellow males.

Conclusions

Strong directional selection is expected to deplete genetic variation, yet many species show striking genetically-based polymorphisms. Most studies evoke frequency dependent selection to explain the persistence of such variation. Consistent with a growing body of evidence, our findings suggest that a complex form of balancing selection may alternatively explain the evolution and maintenance of AMSs in a colour polymorphic fish. In particular, this study demonstrates that intrasexual competition results in phenotypically distinct males exhibiting clear differences in their levels of aggression to exclude potential sexual rivals. By being dominant, the more aggressive males are able to circumvent female mating preferences for attractive males, whereas another male type incorporates subordinate behaviours that allow them to circumvent male aggression and female mating preferences. Together, these and previous results indicate that exploiting different aspects of social interactions may allow males to evolve distinct mating strategies and thus the long term maintenance of polymorphisms within populations.