The effect of purging on sexually selected traits through antagonistic pleiotropy with survival


Geir H. Bolstad, Centre for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7491 Trondheim, Norway. Tel: +47 92 03 76 65; Fax: +47 735 96100; E-mail:


Sexually selected traits are expected to evolve to a point where their positive effect on reproductive success is counterbalanced by their negative effect on survival. At the genetic level, such a trade-off implies antagonistic pleiotropy between survival and the expression of sexually selected traits. Yet, the consequences of such a genetic architecture have been largely overlooked in studies examining how inbreeding influences sexually selected traits. These studies have solely interpreted their results as an effect of increased homozygosity. An alternative, however, is that purging of recessive alleles deleterious for survival when inbreeding increases can negatively affect the expression of sexually selected traits through antagonistic pleiotropy. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing the effects of inbreeding on several male ornaments and life-history traits across 20 captive populations of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) with varying levels of inbreeding. Only one ornament, orange area, decreased in its expression with an increasing level of inbreeding. This was most likely due to purging because we found no within-population relationship between orange area and the inbreeding coefficient. We further tested this hypothesis by crossing unrelated individuals from the four most inbred populations, creating a group of individuals with purged genomes but restored heterozygosity. Restoration of heterozygosity only slightly increased orange area, confirming that the decrease in orange area in the inbred populations most likely resulted from purging. These results support previous studies suggesting the existence of antagonistic pleiotropy between ornament expression and survival.