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Paternity success and the direction of sexual selection in a field population of a semelparous marsupial, Antechinus agilis


F. J. L. Kraaijeveld-Smit.


Antechinus agilis is a small sexually size dimorphic marsupial with a brief annual mating period of 2–3 weeks. All males die after this period, and females give birth to up to 10 young. Mating is thought to be promiscuous, however, there is no field data to confirm this. Using microsatellites, we investigated paternity patterns over two seasons in a wild population. Male weight was significantly positively related to the number of females fertilized and with the number of offspring sired, in both years. Furthermore, selection gradients indicated selection for larger males. Both results suggest that size dimorphism in A. agilis can be explained by sexual selection for larger males. The proportion of offspring sired within litters, did not relate to male size. Therefore, larger males are more successful through higher mating access, not through their sperm outcompeting that of smaller males. As expected from their known ranging behaviour, the number of offspring within litters left unassigned to a father did not depend on the grid location of the mother. Female size did not differ between successful reproducing and unsuccessful females. However, females that weaned offspring had larger heads than females that did not wean offspring. Males did not ‘prefer’ mating with larger females, nor did assortative mating occur. From our results, the mating system of A. agilis is clearly promiscuous. Selection for larger males occurred in both years, even though in one year the operational sex ratio was highly female biased, suggesting that the potential reproductive rate is a better predictor of the direction of sexual selection in A. agilis.