• Open Access

RUNAWAY SEXUAL SELECTION WITHOUT GENETIC CORRELATIONS: SOCIAL ENVIRONMENTS AND FLEXIBLE MATE CHOICE INITIATE AND ENHANCE THE FISHER PROCESS

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Abstract

Female mating preferences are often flexible, reflecting the social environment in which they are expressed. Associated indirect genetic effects (IGEs) can affect the rate and direction of evolutionary change, but sexual selection models do not capture these dynamics. We incorporate IGEs into quantitative genetic models to explore how variation in social environments and mate choice flexibility influence Fisherian sexual selection. The importance of IGEs is that runaway sexual selection can occur in the absence of a genetic correlation between male traits and female preferences. Social influences can facilitate the initiation of the runaway process and increase the rate of trait elaboration. Incorporating costs to choice do not alter the main findings. Our model provides testable predictions: (1) genetic covariances between male traits and female preferences may not exist, (2) social flexibility in female choice will be common in populations experiencing strong sexual selection, (3) variation in social environments should be associated with rapid sexual trait divergence, and (4) secondary sexual traits will be more elaborate than previously predicted. Allowing feedback from the social environment resolves discrepancies between theoretical predictions and empirical data, such as why indirect selection on female preferences, theoretically weak, might be sufficient for preferences to become elaborated.

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