• Condition dependence;
  • genetic variance-covriance matrix;
  • genic capture;
  • sexual selection

Abstract Single male sexually selected traits have been found to exhibit substantial genetic variance, even though natural and sexual selection are predicted to deplete genetic variance in these traits. We tested whether genetic variance in multiple male display traits of Drosophila serrata was maintained under field conditions. A breeding design involving 300 field-reared males and their laboratory-reared offspring allowed the estimation of the genetic variance-covariance matrix for six male cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) under field conditions. Despite individual CHCs displaying substantial genetic variance under field conditions, the vast majority of genetic variance in CHCs was not closely associated with the direction of sexual selection measured on field phenotypes. Relative concentrations of three CHCs correlated positively with body size in the field, but not under laboratory conditions, suggesting condition-dependent expression of CHCs under field conditions. Therefore condition dependence may not maintain genetic variance in preferred combinations of male CHCs under field conditions, suggesting that the large mutational target supplied by the evolution of condition dependence may not provide a solution to the lek paradox in this species. Sustained sexual selection may be adequate to deplete genetic variance in the direction of selection, perhaps as a consequence of the low rate of favorable mutations expected in multiple trait systems.