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Keywords:

  • Carotenoids;
  • dietary manipulation;
  • genetic variation;
  • lek paradox;
  • trade-offs

Abstract

Female choice can impose persistent directional selection on male sexually selected traits, yet such traits often exhibit high levels of phenotypic variation. One explanation for this paradox is that if sexually selected traits are costly, only the fittest males are able to acquire and allocate the resources required for their expression. Furthermore, because male condition is dependent on resource allocation, condition dependence in sexual traits is expected to underlie trade-offs between reproduction and other life-history functions. In this study we test these ideas by experimentally manipulating diet quality (carotenoid levels) and quantity in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata), a livebearing freshwater fish that is an important model for understanding relationships between pre- and post-copulatory sexually selected traits. Specifically, we test for condition dependence in the expression of pre- and postcopulatory sexual traits (behavior, ornamentation, sperm traits) and determine whether diet manipulation mediates relationships among these traits. Consistent with prior work we found a significant effect of diet quantity on the expression of both pre- and postcopulatory male traits; diet-restricted males performed fewer sexual behaviors and exhibited significant reductions in color ornamentation, sperm quality, sperm number, and sperm length than those fed ad libitum. However, contrary to our expectations, we found no significant effect of carotenoid manipulation on the expression of any of these traits, and no evidence for a trade-off in resource allocation between pre- and postcopulatory episodes of sexual selection. Our results further underscore the sensitivity of behavioral, ornamental, and ejaculate traits to dietary stress, and highlight the important role of condition dependence in maintaining the high variability in male sexual traits.