Background: Theoretical studies suggest that direct and indirect selection have the potential to cause substantial evolutionary change in female mate choice. Similarly, sexual selection is considered a strong force in the evolution of male attractiveness and the exaggeration of secondary sexual traits. Few studies have, however, directly tested how female mate choice and male attractiveness respond to selection. Here we report the results of a selection experiment in which we selected directly on female mating preference for attractive males and, independently, on male attractiveness in the guppy, Poecilia reticulata. We measured the direct and correlated responses of female mate choice and male attractiveness to selection and the correlated responses of male ornamental traits, female fecundity and adult male and female survival.
Results: Surprisingly, neither female mate choice nor male attractiveness responded significantly to direct or to indirect selection. Fecundity did differ significantly among lines in a way that suggests a possible sexually-antagonistic cost to male attractiveness.
Conclusions: The opportunity for evolutionary change in female mate choice and male attractiveness may be much smaller than predicted by current theory, and may thus have important consequences for how we understand the evolution of female mate choice and male attractiveness. We discuss a number of factors that may have constrained the response of female choice and male attractiveness to selection, including low heritabilities, low levels of genetic (co)variation in the multivariate direction of selection, sexually-antagonistic constraint on sexual selection and the "environmental covariance hypothesis".