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Keywords:

  • Phenotypic plasticity;
  • reproductive strategies;
  • sexual selection;
  • social status

Reproductive success is determined by a complex interplay between multiple sexual traits that promote mate acquisition and, following copulation, provide control over paternity. The intensity of sexual competition that individuals experience often fluctuates, and here we investigate how this influences the expression of reproductive traits and their relationships. We show in the fowl, Gallus gallus, that males of different social status, which experience different intensities of sexual competition, before and after copulation, have different reproductive phenotypes. Dominant males are more vigilant, feed less, and have larger sexual ornaments than subordinate males. Experimentally manipulating social status revealed that these differences were phenotypically plastic, indicating multiple sexual traits were dependent on the social environment. We integrated these data with previous published findings on changes in sperm numbers and velocity to show that relationships between traits were different for males when they were dominant and when they were subordinate. Furthermore, when males switched status a complex array of negative and positive correlations between the degree traits changed was observed. Our results suggest that variation in the intensity of sexual competition generates reversible plasticity in reproductive phenotypes and that relationships between sexual traits may be variable and influence the evolution of reproductive strategies.