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Keywords:

  • descriptive method;
  • experimental method;
  • fecundity;
  • female phenotype;
  • Lobesia botrana ;
  • mating opportunity;
  • monandry;
  • potential polyandry;
  • realized polyandry;
  • refractory period

Abstract

Polyandry is perhaps the most puzzling component of mating systems because the fitness benefits for females of mating with more than one male during lifetime are poorly understood. The occurrence and extent of polyandry varies considerably both among and within species, and a positive association between polyandry and fecundity is widespread but not universal. The scenario is further complicated because the scientific literature on this issue includes studies that are often inconclusive or contradictory even for the same target species. A previous meta-analysis detected the crucial importance of two usually neglected aspects that potentially bias the interpretation of primary studies about the polyandry–fecundity relationship: the methodological approach – experimental or descriptive – and the polyandry concept itself – realized or potential. In this paper, we experimentally test the effect of these aspects with the moth Lobesia botrana. We used an innovative protocol in which the experimental and the descriptive methods were conducted simultaneously on the same target population and the results were then interpreted from the perspective of both concepts of polyandry. The results clearly showed that 1) the conclusions about the polyandry–fecundity relationship were strongly dependent on the methodological approach used and 2) the concept of polyandry invoked by the researcher was a confounding effect that potentially biases data interpretation. We suggest that greater attention must be paid to intraspecific variation among females in their propensity to remate. The differentiation in experimental studies between potentially polyandrous and monandrous phenotypes could greatly improve our knowledge about the maintenance of female mating polymorphism in most species and the adaptive significance of polyandry.