Fluctuating asymmetry, body size and sexual selection in the dung fly Sepsis cynipsea — testing the good genes assumptions and predictions

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Abstract

In the dung fly Sepsis cynipsea large and more symmetric males have been shown to enjoy a mating advantage, but we still do not know which mechanism of sexual selection is responsible. Here we test several assumptions and predictions relating to the hypothesis that either trait is indicative of ‘good genes’. We tested for good genes by regressing fitness in good and bad environments (no and high larval competition, respectively) on the family mean for size or asymmetry as expressed in the good environment, separately for both sexes. Body size (hind tibia length or head width) was positively correlated with female fecundity, growth rate of both sexes and larval survivorship for males, but only in the good environment. The corresponding evidence for asymmetry is more equivocal. Mean standardised asymmetry was weakly associated with lower survivorship in the good environment, while growth rates and female fecundity were not. As predicted by sexual selection theory, fore tibia length showed greater asymmetry than other, presumably not sexually selected traits, and asymmetry in fore tibia length was greater for males than females. However, a negative correlation between trait size and asymmetry was only evident for male seta length but not for fore tibia length, fore femur length, or any composite measure of asymmetry. Most crucially, asymmetry was heritable for some female morphological traits (hind tibia length: h2 = 0.15; fore femur length: h2 = 0.16; mean of all measured traits: h2 = 0.27), but not for any male trait. Also, asymmetry of the various traits measured was not correlated within males and only weakly so within females. The crucial assumption that asymmetry of sexually selected traits reflects overall, heritable developmental stability of an individual is thus only partly substantiated by our data. In contrast, large body size is heritable, associated with high fitness and consequently could be indicative of good genes. Fore leg asymmetry may influence male mating success by simply mechanically constraining his ability to hold on to the female.

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