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Keywords:

  • Adaptive function;
  • animal genitalia;
  • copulation success;
  • functional morphology;
  • laser ablation;
  • sexual selection

That male genital morphology evolves via postcopulatory sexual selection is a widely held view. In contrast, the precopulatory sexual selection hypothesis for genital evolution has received less attention. Here, we test the hypothesis that male genital spines of Drosophila ananassae promote competitive male copulation success. Using laser surgery to manipulate trait size, we demonstrate that incremental reductions of spine length progressively reduce male copulation success: males without spines failed entirely to copulate because of an inability to couple the genitalia together, whereas males with halfway ablated and blunted spines suffered reductions in copulation success of 87% and 13%, respectively. The decrease in copulation success resulting from spine length reduction was markedly stronger in sexually competitive environments than in noncompetitive environments, and females expressed resistance behaviors similarly toward competing male treatments, demonstrating directly the role of genital spines in promoting competitive copulation success. Because these spines are widespread within Drosophila, and because genital traits with precopulatory function are being discovered in a growing number of animal taxa, precopulatory sexual selection may have a more pervasive role in genital evolution than previously recognized.