Opposites attract? Mate choice for parasite evasion and the evolutionary stability of sex


R. S. Howard, Department of Biology, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN 37132, USA. Tel: 615 898 2044; fax: 615 898 5093; e-mail: rshoward@mtsu.edu


Abstract If sex is naturally selected as a way to combat parasites, then sexual selection for disease resistance might increase the overall strength of selection for outcrossing. In the present study, we compared how two forms of mate choice affect the evolutionary stability of outcrossing in simultaneous hermaphrodites. In the first form, individuals preferred to mate with uninfected individuals (condition-dependent choice). In the second form, individuals preferred to mate with individuals that shared the least number of alleles in common at disease-resistance loci. The comparisons were made using individual-based computer simulations in which we varied parasite virulence, parasite transmission rate, and the rate of deleterious mutation at 500 viability loci. We found that alleles controlling both forms of mate choice spread when rare, but their effects on the evolutionary stability of sex were markedly different. Surprisingly, condition-dependent choice for uninfected mates had little effect on the evolutionary stability of sexual reproduction. In contrast, active choice for mates having different alleles at disease-resistance loci had a pronounced positive effect, especially under low rates of deleterious mutation. Based on these results, we suggest that mate choice that increases the genetic diversity of offspring can spread when rare in a randomly mating population, and, as an indirect consequence, increase the range of conditions under which sexual reproduction is evolutionarily stable.