Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 256-268

First online:

The evolution of alternative mating strategies in variable environments

  • Jeffrey A. HutchingsAffiliated withInstitute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh
  • , Ransom A. MyersAffiliated withScience Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

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We assessed the influence of phenotypic plasticity in age at maturity on the maintenance of alternative mating strategies in male Atlantic salmon,Salmo salar. We calculated the fitness,r, associated with the parr and the anadromous strategies, using age-specific survival data from the field and strategy-specific fertilization data from the laboratory. The fitness of each strategy depended largely on mate competition (numbers of parr per female, i.e. parr frequency) and on age at maturity. Fitness declined with increasing numbers of parr per female with equilibrium frequencies (at which the fitnesses of each strategy are equal) being within the range observed in the wild. Equilibrium parr frequencies declined with decreasing growth rate and increasing age at maturity. Within populations, the existence of multiple age-specific sets of fitness functions suggests that the fitnesses of alternative strategies are best represented as multidimensional surfaces. The points of intersection of these surfaces, whose boundaries encompass natural variation in age at maturity and mate competition, define an evolutionarily stable continuum (ESC) of strategy frequencies along which the fitnesses associated with each strategy are equal. We propose a simple model that incorporates polygenic thresholds of a largely environmentally-controlled trait (age at maturity) to provide a mechanism by which an ESC can be maintained within a population. An indirect test provides support for the prediction that growth-rate thresholds for parr maturation exist and are maintained by stabilizing selection. Evolutionarily stable continua, maintained by negative frequency-dependent selection on threshold traits, provide a theoretical basis for understanding how alternative life histories can evolve in variable environments.


alternative mating strategies environmental variability life history evolution salmonid fish phenotypic plasticity