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Keywords:

  • Assortative mating;
  • compatibility preference;
  • fitness;
  • larval density;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • sexual selection

It is increasingly realized that the potential for male mate choice is widespread across many taxa. However, measurements of the relative magnitude of the fitness benefits that such choice can confer are lacking. Here, we directly measured, in a comprehensive set of tests that manipulated key variables, the fitness benefits of male mate choice in Drosophila melanogaster by measuring egg production in females that were chosen or rejected by males. The results provided significant evidence for male mate choice. In absolute terms, the observed degree of choice increased male fitness by an average of only 1.59 eggs. However, using a novel technique we show that this benefit of choice represented 14.5% of the maximum potential fitness benefit of choice. The magnitude of mate choice was not significantly altered by variation in (1) mate compatibility, (2) phenotypic plasticity in male mate choice, or (3) whether choosing males were preferred or nonpreferred by females. Overall, we show that male mate choice represents a subtle but significant opportunity for sexual selection, and we offer a novel and widely applicable method for quantifying mate choice.