Disentangling the causes of temporal variation in the opportunity for sexual selection

Rômulo Carleial (Lead Author), Tommaso Pizzeri, David S. Richardson, Grant C. McDonald

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In principle, temporal fluctuations in the potential for sexual selection can be estimated as changes in intrasexual variance in reproductive success (i.e. the opportunity for selection). However, we know little about how opportunity measures vary over time, and the extent to which such dynamics are affected by stochasticity. We use published mating data from multiple species to investigate temporal variation in the opportunity for sexual selection. First, we show that the opportunity for precopulatory sexual selection typically declines over successive days in both sexes and shorter sampling periods lead to substantial overestimates. Second, by utilising randomised null models, we also find that these dynamics are largely explained by an accumulation of random matings, but that intrasexual competition may slow temporal declines. Third, using data from a red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) population, we show that declines in precopulatory measures over a breeding period were mirrored by declines in the opportunity for both postcopulatory and total sexual selection. Collectively, we show that variance-based metrics of selection change rapidly, are highly sensitive to sampling durations, and likely lead to substantial misinterpretation if used as indicators of sexual selection. However, simulations can begin to disentangle stochastic variation from biological mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1006
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2023

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