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Environment-dependent selection on mate choice in a natural population of birds




Female mate choice acts as an important evolutionary force, yet the influence of the environment on both its expression and the selective pressures acting upon it remains unknown. We found consistent heritable differences between females in their choice of mate based on ornament size during a 25-year study of a population of collared flycatchers. However, the fitness consequences of mate choice were dependent on environmental conditions experienced whilst breeding. Females breeding with highly ornamented males experienced high relative fitness during dry summer conditions, but low relative fitness during wetter years. Our results imply that sexual selection within a population can be highly variable and dependent upon the prevailing weather conditions experienced by individuals.