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Keywords:

  • Breeding tubercles;
  • compatible genes;
  • genetic quality;
  • offspring fitness;
  • performance;
  • sexual selection

Secondary sexual characters are often expressed in both sexes (mutual ornamentation), but are less often studied simultaneously. We studied the adaptive signaling function of male and female ornamentation in a mutually ornamented fish, the whitefish Coregonus lavaretus. In an experimental design in which nongenetic environmental effects were minimized, we found that highly ornamented females, males, and their parental combinations had offspring with better swimming performance and predator-avoidance ability than less ornamented individuals or combinations. Furthermore, highly ornamented females had larger offspring that also had higher yolk volume than less ornamented individuals. Offspring swimming performance was not dependent on offspring size and was only weakly affected by yolk volume, which suggest that swimming performance and measured morphological traits are independent fitness measures. In conclusion, mutual ornamentation of whitefish may signal the quality of individuals in both sexes, which may indicate ongoing directional selection for these ornamental traits. However, offspring fitness traits were also dependent on parental combination, which suggests that genetic compatibility effects may weaken the directional selection and the indicator value of the ornamentation.