1. The persistence of multiple mating remains one of the fundamental questions in evolutionary biology. In theory, multiple mating is predicted to improve female fitness cumulatively through direct and/or genetic benefits. However, intra-locus sexual conflicts may potentially constrain or even eliminate these benefits owing to the gender load imposed by sexually antagonistic selection.
2. Here, we tested whether sexually antagonistic selection can maintain the variance in multiple mating behaviour of bank voles (Myodes glareolus) by manipulating the hormone testosterone through artificial selection in the laboratory. Among mammals, testosterone is a sexually dimorphic fitness-related trait under selection and is known to affect mating behaviour. We conducted mating trials in which females derived from family-based selection of testosterone were sequentially paired with four males of different testosterone profiles.
3. We show that artificial selection for high testosterone increased the mating rate of males, but clearly decreased the number of partners that females mated with (and vice versa). Because multiple mating was beneficial for the reproductive success of both sexes, as evidenced by the positive Bateman gradients, the divergent evolutionary interests of testosterone between the sexes can maintain this polygynandrous mating system.
4. Our results highlight how mating rate is concordantly selected in both sexes; however, it is largely influenced by testosterone, which is under sexually antagonistic selection.
5. This study is the first one to emphasise the direct and indirect effects of the endocrine system not only on reproductive physiology and behaviour but also for the evolution of genetic mating strategies in mammals.