Sexual selection for male dominance reduces opportunities for female mate choice in the European bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus)


Dr Martin Reichard, Fax: + 420 543211 346; E-mail:


Sexual selection involves two main mechanisms: intrasexual competition for mates and intersexual mate choice. We experimentally separated intrasexual (male–male interference competition) and intersexual (female choice) components of sexual selection in a freshwater fish, the European bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus). We compared the roles of multiple morphological and behavioural traits in male success in both components of sexual competition, and their relation to male reproductive success, measured as paternity of offspring. Body size was important for both female choice and male–male competition, though females also preferred males that courted more vigorously. However, dominant males often monopolized females regardless of female preference. Subordinate males were not excluded from reproduction and sired some offspring, possibly through sneaked ejaculations. Male dominance and a greater intensity of carotenoid-based red colouration in their iris were the best predictors of male reproductive success. The extent of red iris colouration and parasite load did not have significant effects on female choice, male dominance or male reproductive success. No effect of parasite load on the expression of red eye colouration was detected, though this may have been due to low parasite prevalence in males overall. In conclusion, we showed that even though larger body size was favoured in both intersexual and intrasexual selection, male–male interference competition reduced opportunities for female choice. Females, despite being choosy, had limited control over the paternity of their offspring. Our study highlights the need for reliable measures of male reproductive success in studies of sexual selection.