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Bias in the heritability of preference and its potential impact on the evolution of mate choice.

  • Author(s): Roff, DA;
  • Fairbairn, DJ
  • et al.

The evolution of mate choice is a function of the heritability of preference. Estimation in the laboratory is typically made by presenting a female with a limited number of males. We show that such an approach produces a downwardly biased estimate, which we term the heritability of choice. When preference is treated as a threshold trait then less biased estimates are obtained particularly for preferences based on the relative value of the preferred trait. Because females in the wild typically survey on average less than five males we argue that the heritability of choice may be more meaningful than the heritability of preference. The restricted number of males surveyed can lead to a reduction in the phenotypic variance of the preferred trait in the group of males selected by the females if the phenotypic variance in preference is equal to or less than the phenotypic variance in the referred trait. If the phenotypic variance in preference exceeds that of the preferred trait then the opposite occurs. A second effect of the restricted number of males sampled is that females are likely to mate initially with males that are not the most preferred. The failure to find the most preferred male may account for the common observation of multiple matings and extra-pair copulations. We suggest that current explanations for polyandry need to take this failure into account.

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