Breeding experience and the heritability of female mate choice in collared flycatchers
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
, p. e13855,1-e13855,8
University of Antwerp
Background Heritability in mate preferences is assumed by models of sexual selection, and preference evolution may contribute to adaptation to changing environments. However, mate preference is difficult to measure in natural populations as detailed data on mate availability and mate sampling are usually missing. Often the only available information is the ornamentation of the actual mate. The single long-term quantitative genetic study of a wild population found low heritability in female mate ornamentation in Swedish collared flycatchers. One potentially important cause of low heritability in mate ornamentation at the population level is reduced mate preference expression among inexperienced individuals. Methodology/Principal Findings Applying animal model analyses to 21 years of data from a Hungarian collared flycatcher population, we found that additive genetic variance was 50 percent and significant for ornament expression in males, but less than 5 percent and non-significant for mate ornamentation treated as a female trait. Female breeding experience predicted breeding date and clutch size, but mate ornamentation and its variance components were unrelated to experience. Although we detected significant area and year effects on mate ornamentation, more than 85 percent of variance in this trait remained unexplained. Moreover, the effects of area and year on mate ornamentation were also highly positively correlated between inexperienced and experienced females, thereby acting to remove difference between the two groups. Conclusions/Significance The low heritability of mate ornamentation was apparently not explained by the presence of inexperienced individuals. Our results further indicate that the expression of mate ornamentation is dominated by temporal and spatial constraints and unmeasured background factors. Future studies should reduce unexplained variance or use alternative measures of mate preference. The heritability of mate preference in the wild remains a principal but unresolved question in evolutionary ecology.