Mate choice and the genetic basis for colour variation in a polymorphic dart frog: inferences from a wild pedigree



    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 400 Lindy Boggs Bldg., Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA
    2. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancon, Panama, Republica de Panama
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  • IAN J. WANG,

    1. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
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    1. Department of Biology, East Carolina University, East Fifth St., Greenville, NC 27858, USA
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Corinne Richards-Zawacki, Fax: +1 504 862 8706; E-mail:


Understanding how reproductive barriers evolve during speciation remains an important question in evolution. Divergence in mating preferences may be a common first step in this process. The striking colour pattern diversity of strawberry dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) populations has likely been shaped by sexual selection. Previous laboratory studies have shown that females attend to male coloration and prefer to court with males of their own colour, suggesting that divergent morphs may be reproductively isolated. To test this hypothesis, we used molecular data to estimate pedigree relationships from a polymorphic population. Whereas in the laboratory both red and yellow females preferred to court with males of their own phenotype, our pedigree shows a pattern of assortative mating only for red females. In the wild, yellow females appear to be less choosy about their mates, perhaps because they incur higher costs associated with searching than females of the more common red phenotype. We also used our pedigree to investigate the genetic basis for colour-pattern variation. The phenotype frequencies we observed were consistent with those expected if dorsal background coloration is controlled by a single locus, with complete dominance of red over yellow. Our results not only help clarify the role of sexual selection in reducing gene flow, but also shed light on the mechanisms underlying colour-pattern variation among sympatric colour morphs. The difference we observed between mating preferences measured under laboratory conditions and the pattern of mate choice observed in the wild highlight the importance of field studies for understanding behavioural reproductive isolation.