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Keywords:

  • alternative reproductive tactic ;
  • carotenoid coloration ;
  • good genes ;
  • male;
  • male competition ;
  • melanin coloration ;
  • Salmo salar

The ‘good genes’ hypothesis of sexual selection predicts that male ornaments are favoured by female mate choice because male ornament reveals genetic quality. In species with different male reproductive tactics, variation in genetic quality among ‘sneaking’ males has rarely been investigated, as usually ‘sneakers’ are thought not to be chosen by females. Here we focused on the alternative reproductive tactic in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar Linnaeus, 1758) to test whether the skin colour of sneakers may reveal the performance traits of their offspring. A fully factorial breeding design was realized between 20 sneakers and two females using in vitro fertilization. We quantified the red and dark colorations of males and measured the survival of their progeny under semi-natural conditions. In addition, the size of offspring and their emergence timing from the gravel nest were monitored in the laboratory. We found that darker males sired more viable offspring, whereas red coloration was negatively correlated with offspring survival. Nevertheless, darker and redder male pigmentations were linked to a delay in offspring emergence. These results demonstrate that colours can reveal individual genetic quality in an alternative male reproductive tactic, with male melanin-based coloration being linked to both beneficial and detrimental effects for the offspring. Our results imply that sneaker ornaments may potentially play a role in both intra- and intersexual selection. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2014, 111, 126–135.