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Open Access Research article

Male dominance linked to size and age, but not to 'good genes' in brown trout (Salmo trutta)

Alain Jacob12*, Sébastien Nusslé1, Adrian Britschgi2, Guillaume Evanno1, Rudolf Müller3 and Claus Wedekind123

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Biophore, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Division of Conservation Biology, University of Bern, Erlachstrasse 9a, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

3 Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Seestrasse 79, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:207  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-207

Published: 1 November 2007



Males that are successful in intra-sexual competition are often assumed to be of superior quality. In the mating system of most salmonid species, intensive dominance fights are common and the winners monopolise most mates and sire most offspring. We drew a random sample of mature male brown trout (Salmo trutta) from two wild populations and determined their dominance hierarchy or traits linked to dominance. The fish were then stripped and their sperm was used for in vitro fertilisations in two full-factorial breeding designs. We recorded embryo viability until hatching in both experiments, and juvenile survival during 20 months after release into a natural streamlet in the second experiment. Since offspring of brown trout get only genes from their fathers, we used offspring survival as a quality measure to test (i) whether males differ in their genetic quality, and if so, (ii) whether dominance or traits linked to dominance reveal 'good genes'.


We found significant additive genetic variance on embryo survival, i.e. males differed in their genetic quality. Older, heavier and larger males were more successful in intra-sexual selection. However, neither dominance nor dominance indicators like body length, weight or age were significantly linked to genetic quality measured as embryo or juvenile survival.


We found no evidence that females can improve their offspring's genetic viability by mating with large and dominant males. If there still were advantages of mating with dominant males, they may be linked to non-genetic benefits or to genetic advantages that are context dependent and therefore possibly not revealed under our experimental conditions – even if we found significant additive genetic variation for embryo viability under such conditions.