Mate choice games, context-dependent good genes, and genetic cycles in the side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana
According to mate choice models, a female should prefer males with traits that are reliable indicators of genetic quality which the sire can pass on to their progeny. However, good genes may depend on the social environment, and female choice for good genes should be context dependent. The side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, exhibits genetically based throat colors (orange, blue, or yellow) that could be used as a sexually selected signal since they reliably predict the genetic quality of mates. The frequencies of male and female morphs cycle between years, and both male and female morphs have an advantage when rare; thus genetic quality will depend on morph frequency. A female should choose a sire that maximizes the reproductive success of both male and female progeny. We examine a game theoretical model that predicts female mate choice as a function of morph frequency and population density. The model predicts the following flexible mate choice rule: both female morphs should prefer rare males in ’boom years’ of the female cycle (e.g., ’rarest-of-N rule’), but prefer orange males in ’crash years’ of the female cycle (’orange-male rule’). Cues from the current social environment should be used by females to choose a mate that maximizes the future reproductive success of progeny, given the social environment of the next generation. We predict that the cue is the density of aggressive orange females. In the side-blotched lizard, cycling mate choice games and context-dependent mate choice are predicted to maintain genetic variation in the presence of choice for good genes.
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