• experimental evolution;
  • male harassment;
  • mutation load;
  • natural selection;
  • population mean fitness;
  • sexual conflict

The effects of sexual selection on population mean fitness are unclear and a subject of debate. Recent models propose that, because reproductive success may be condition dependent, much of the genome may be a target of sexual selection. Under this scenario, mutations that reduce health, and thus nonsexual fitness, may also be deleterious with respect to reproductive success, meaning that sexual selection may contribute to the purging of deleterious alleles. We tested this hypothesis directly by subjecting replicate Drosophila melanogaster populations to two treatments that altered the opportunity for sexual selection and then tracked changes in the frequency of six separate deleterious alleles with recessive and visible phenotypic effects. While natural selection acted to decrease the frequency of all six mutations, the addition of sexual selection did not aid in the purging of any of them, and for three of them appears to have hampered it. Courtship and mating have harmful effects in this species and mate choice assays showed that males directed more courtship and mating behavior toward wild-type over mutant females, providing a likely explanation for sexual selection's cost. Whether this cost extends to other mutations (e.g., those lacking visible phenotypic effects) is an important topic for future research.