, 134:5 | Cite as

The genetic basis of traits regulating sperm competition and polyandry: can selection favour the evolution of good- and sexy-sperm?

  • Jonathan P. Evans
  • Leigh W. Simmons


The good-sperm and sexy-sperm (GS-SS) hypotheses predict that female multiple mating (polyandry) can fuel sexual selection for heritable male traits that promote success in sperm competition. A major prediction generated by these models, therefore, is that polyandry will benefit females indirectly via their sons’ enhanced fertilization success. Furthermore, like classic ‘good genes’ and ‘sexy son’ models for the evolution of female preferences, GS-SS processes predict a genetic correlation between genes for female mating frequency (analogous to the female preference) and those for traits influencing fertilization success (the sexually selected traits). We examine the premise for these predictions by exploring the genetic basis of traits thought to influence fertilization success and female mating frequency. We also highlight recent debates that stress the possible genetic constraints to evolution of traits influencing fertilization success via GS-SS processes, including sex-linked inheritance, nonadditive effects, interacting parental genotypes, and trade-offs between integrated ejaculate components. Despite these possible constraints, the available data suggest that male traits involved in sperm competition typically exhibit substantial additive genetic variance and rapid evolutionary responses to selection. Nevertheless, the limited data on the genetic variation in female mating frequency implicate strong genetic maternal effects, including X-linkage, which is inconsistent with GS-SS processes. Although the relative paucity of studies on the genetic basis of polyandry does not allow us to draw firm conclusions about the evolutionary origins of this trait, the emerging pattern of sex linkage in genes for polyandry is more consistent with an evolutionary history of antagonistic selection over mating frequency. We advocate further development of GS-SS theory to take account of the complex evolutionary dynamics imposed by sexual conflict over mating frequency.


Polyandry Multiple mating Sexual conflict Antagonistic selection Genital morphology Heritability Repeatability 



We are grateful to members of the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at UWA, and Janne Kotiaho and John Bridle for discussion, and Trevor Pitcher and Herman Mays for organising the Symposium on the Evolutionary Ecology of Genetic Quality (Tours, France, 2006), which provided the impetus for this contribution. JPE and LWS are funded by the Australian Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092)The University of Western AustraliaNedlandsAustralia

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