Inbreeding depression and genetic load of sexually selected traits: how the guppy lost its spots

J Evol Biol. 2003 Mar;16(2):273-81. doi: 10.1046/j.1420-9101.2003.00511.x.


To date, few studies have investigated the effects of inbreeding on sexually selected traits, although inbreeding depression on such traits can play an important role in the evolution and ecology of wild populations. Sexually selected traits such as ornamentation and courtship behaviour may not be primary fitness characters, but selection and dominance coefficients of their mutations will resemble those of traits under natural selection. Strong directional selection, for instance, through female mate-choice, purges all but the most recessive deleterious mutations, and the remaining dominance variation will result in inbreeding depression once populations undergo bottlenecks. We analysed the effects of inbreeding on sexually selected traits (colour pattern and courtship behaviour) in the male guppy, Poecilia reticulata, from Trinidad, and found a significant decline in the frequency of mating behaviour and colour spots. Such effects occurred although the genetic basis of these traits, many of which are Y-linked and hemizygous, would be expected to leave relatively little scope for inbreeding depression. Findings suggest that these sexually selected traits could reflect the genetic condition or health of males, and thus may be informative mate-cue characters for female choice as suggested by the 'good genes' model.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Genetic Load*
  • Inbreeding*
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Pigmentation / genetics
  • Poecilia / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Trinidad and Tobago