• G matrix;
  • genetic constraint;
  • heritability;
  • multivariate lek paradox;
  • sexual selection;
  • signaling

Genetic variation in sexual displays is crucial for an evolutionary response to sexual selection, but can be eroded by strong selection. Identifying the magnitude and sources of additive genetic variance underlying sexually selected traits is thus an important issue in evolutionary biology. We conducted a quantitative genetics experiment with gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor) to investigate genetic variances and covariances among features of the male advertisement call. Two energetically expensive traits showed significant genetic variation: call duration, expressed as number of pulses per call, and call rate, represented by its inverse, call period. These two properties also showed significant genetic covariance, consistent with an energetic constraint to call production. Combining the genetic variance–covariance matrix with previous estimates of directional sexual selection imposed by female preferences predicts a limited increase in call duration but no change in call rate despite significant selection on both traits. In addition to constraints imposed by the genetic covariance structure, an evolutionary response to sexual selection may also be limited by high energetic costs of long-duration calls and by preferences that act most strongly against very short-duration calls. Meanwhile, the persistence of these preferences could be explained by costs of mating with males with especially unattractive calls.