Direct versus indirect sexual selection: genetic basis of colour, size and recruitment in a wild bird.

J.D. Hadfield, M.D. Burgess, A. Lord, A.B. Phillimore, S.M. Clegg, I.P. Owens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Indirect and direct models of sexual selection make different predictions regarding the quantitative genetic relationships between sexual ornaments and fitness. Indirect models predict that ornaments should have a high heritability and that strong positive genetic covariance should exist between fitness and the ornament. Direct models, on the other hand, make no such assumptions about the level of genetic variance in fitness and the ornament, and are therefore likely to be more important when environmental sources of variation are large. Here we test these predictions in a wild population of the blue tit (Parus caeruleus), a species in which plumage coloration has been shown to be under sexual selection. Using 3 years of cross-fostering data from over 250 breeding attempts, we partition the covariance between parental coloration and aspects of nestling fitness into a genetic and environmental component. Contrary to indirect models of sexual selection, but in agreement with direct models, we show that variation in coloration is only weakly heritable (h(2) < 0.11), and that two components of offspring fitness-nestling size and fledgling recruitment-are strongly dependent on parental effects, rather than genetic effects. Furthermore, there was no evidence of significant positive genetic covariation between parental colour and offspring traits. Contrary to direct benefit models, however, we find little evidence that variation in colour reliably indicates the level of parental care provided by either males or females. Taken together, these results indicate that the assumptions of indirect models of sexual selection are not supported by the genetic basis of the traits reported on here.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1353
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1592
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2006


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