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Estimating genetic benefits of polyandry from experimental studies: a meta-analysis

Authors

  • Rachel A. Slatyer,

    1. Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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    • The first two authors contributed equally to this paper.

  • Brian S. Mautz,

    1. Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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    • The first two authors contributed equally to this paper.

  • Patricia R.Y. Backwell,

    1. Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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  • Michael D. Jennions

    Corresponding author
    1. Evolution, Ecology & Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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(Tel: + 61 2 6125 3540; E-mail: michael.jennions@anu.edu.au).

Abstract

The consequences of polyandry for female fitness are controversial. Sexual conflict studies and a meta-analysis of mating rates in insects suggest that there is a longevity cost when females mate repeatedly. Even so, compensatory material benefits can elevate egg production and fertility, partly because polyandry ensures an adequate sperm supply. Polyandry can therefore confer direct benefits. The main controversy surrounds genetic benefits. The argument is analogous to that surrounding the evolution of conventional female mate choice, except that with polyandry it is post-copulatory mechanisms that might bias paternity towards males with higher breeding values for fitness. Recent meta-analyses of extra-pair copulations in birds have cast doubt on whether detectable genetic benefits exist. By contrast, another meta-analysis showed that polyandry elevates egg hatching success (possibly due to a fertilization bias towards sperm with paternal genes that elevate embryo survival) in insects. A detailed summary of whether polyandry elevates other components of offspring performance is lacking. Here we present a comprehensive meta-analysis of 232 effect sizes from 46 experimental studies. These experiments were specifically designed to try to quantify the potential genetic benefits of polyandry by controlling fully for the number of matings by females assigned to monandry and polyandry treatments. The bias-corrected 95% confidence intervals for egg hatching success (d = −0.01 to 0.61), clutch production (d = 0.07 to 0.45) and fertility (d = 0.04 to 0.40) all suggest that polyandry has a beneficial effect (although P values from parametric tests were marginally non-significant at P = 0.075, 0.052 and 0.058, respectively). Polyandry was not significantly beneficial for any single offspring performance trait (e.g. growth rate, survival, adult size), but the test power was low due to small sample sizes (suggesting that many more studies are still needed). We then calculated a composite effect size that provides an index of general offspring performance. Depending on the model assumptions, the mean effect of polyandry was either significantly positive or marginally non-significant. A possible role for publication bias is discussed. The magnitude of the reported potential genetic benefits (d = 0.07 to 0.19) are larger than those from two recent meta-analyses comparing offspring sired by social and extra-pair mates in birds (d = 0.02 to 0.04). This difference raises the intriguing possibility that cryptic, post-copulatory female choice might be more likely to generate ‘good gene’ or ‘compatible gene’ benefits than female choice of mates based on the expression of secondary sexual traits.

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