, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 429-436

Parasite distribution and virulence: implications for parasite-mediated sexual selection

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The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis states that females choosing males with more developed secondary sexual traits, i.e. “brighter” males, achieve greater fitness if variability in brightness reflects heritable variation in resistance to parasites. However, several factors will affect the likelihood that parasites play a role in sexual selection in given species. Here, using simple models, we show that because of parasite aggregation on a few hosts, only few breeding males would suffer from reductions in brightness due to parasites. Only in cases where parasites are abundant and show low levels of aggregation among their hosts would there be sufficient variability in brightness among breeding males for female choice of bright, resistant males to evolve. In addition, sufficient parasite-induced variability in brightness among breeding males will only occur in host-parasite systems where pathology is linearly related to the number of parasites per host. The presence of males that are uninfected and bright but genetically susceptible to parasites will also influence the fitness advantages obtained by females choosing bright males. If genetic immunity against parasites is rare in the host population, females can probably only benefit from choosing bright males if parasites are common and little aggregated among males. These results greatly limit the generality of the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis, and suggest that only a small fraction of host-parasite associations could promote the evolution of host mate choice for resistance based on brightness.

Correspondence to: R. Poulin