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Keywords:

  • mating system;
  • polyandry;
  • Tetrix subulata

Recent investigations of mate choice indicate that the genetic effect of sires on offspring fitness may depend on the interaction between maternal and paternal genotypes and the environmental conditions experienced by the offspring. Alternative colour morphs of the pygmy grasshopper, Tetrix subulata, represent ecological strategies that differ in body size, life history, thermoregulatory behaviour, and habitat selection. The hypothesis that selection promotes behaviours maintaining coadapted gene complexes predicts individuals to mate assortatively with respect to colour morph. On the other hand, the bet-hedging hypothesis predicts that the temporal variability of the environment inhabited by these animals may select for disassortative mating behaviour resulting in heterogeneous offspring. To distinguish between these competing hypotheses, we investigated mating behaviours using dual-choice experiments. Our results were not in agreement with the prediction of assortative mating but suggest instead that matings were random with regard to colour morph. Polyandry was common, and females mated with the second male regardless of whether the first mating was assortative or disassortative. Polyandry also was equally frequent among females in triads in which the two males belonged to different colour morphs as in triads where both males belonged to the same colour morph. A field experiment confirmed that polyandry occurred also among free-ranging individuals, and uncovered variation in mating success among male colour morphs, probably due to indirect effects of coloration on activity or habitat use. The consequences of this random and polyandrous mating strategy for the evolutionary dynamics of the colour polymorphism remain to be explored. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 90, 491–499.