Individual plastic responses by males to rivals reveal mismatches between behaviour and fitness outcomes

Amanda Bretman, James D. Westmancoat, Matthew J. G. Gage, Tracey Chapman

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38 Citations (Scopus)


Plasticity in behaviour is of fundamental significance when environments are variable. Such plasticity is particularly important in the context of rapid changes in the socio-sexual environment. Males can exhibit adaptive plastic responses to variation in the overall level of reproductive competition. However, the extent of behavioural flexibility within individuals, and the degree to which rapidly changing plastic responses map onto fitness are unknown. We addressed this by determining the behaviour and fitness profiles of individual Drosophila melanogaster males subjected to up to three episodes of exposure to rivals or no rivals, in all combinations. Behaviour (mating duration) was remarkably sensitive to the level of competition and fully reversible, suggesting that substantial costs arise from the incorrect expression of even highly flexible behaviour. However, changes in mating duration matched fitness outcomes (offspring number) only in scenarios in which males experienced zero then high competition. Following the removal of competition, mating duration, but not offspring production, decreased to below control levels. This indicates that the benefit of increasing reproductive investment when encountering rivals may exceed that of decreasing investment when rivals disappear. Such asymmetric fitness benefits and mismatches with behavioural responses are expected to exert strong selection on the evolution of plasticity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2868-2876
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1739
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2012

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