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Keywords:

  • Cryptic female choice;
  • genetic correlation;
  • polyandry;
  • promiscuity

Abstract

The widespread occurrence of female multiple mating (FMM) demands evolutionary explanation, particularly in the light of the costs of mating. One explanation encapsulated by “good sperm” and “sexy-sperm” (GS-SS) theoretical models is that FMM facilitates sperm competition, thus ensuring paternity by males that pass on genes for elevated sperm competitiveness to their male offspring. While support for this component of GS-SS theory is accumulating, a second but poorly tested assumption of these models is that there should be corresponding heritable genetic variation in FMM – the proposed mechanism of postcopulatory preferences underlying GS-SS models. Here, we conduct quantitative genetic analyses on paternal half-siblings to test this component of GS-SS theory in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata), a freshwater fish with some of the highest known rates of FMM in vertebrates. As with most previous quantitative genetic analyses of FMM in other species, our results reveal high levels of phenotypic variation in this trait and a correspondingly low narrow-sense heritability (h2 = 0.11). Furthermore, although our analysis of additive genetic variance in FMM was not statistically significant (probably owing to limited statistical power), the ensuing estimate of mean-standardized additive genetic variance (IA = 0.7) was nevertheless relatively low compared with estimates published for life-history traits across a broad range of taxa. Our results therefore add to a growing body of evidence that FMM is characterized by relatively low additive genetic variation, thus apparently contradicting GS-SS theory. However, we qualify this conclusion by drawing attention to potential deficiencies in most designs (including ours) that have tested for genetic variation in FMM, particularly those that fail to account for intersexual interactions that underlie FMM in many systems.