Evolution of female preference for younger males

PLoS One. 2007 Sep 26;2(9):e939. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000939.


Previous theoretical work has suggested that females should prefer to mate with older males, as older males should have higher fitness than the average fitness of the cohort into which they were born. However, studies in humans and model organisms have shown that as males age, they accumulate deleterious mutations in their germ-line at an ever-increasing rate, thereby reducing the quality of genes passed on to the next generation. Thus, older males may produce relatively poor-quality offspring. To better understand how male age influences female mate preference and offspring quality, we used a genetic algorithm model to study the effect of age-related increases in male genetic load on female mate preference. When we incorporate age-related increases in mutation load in males into our model, we find that females evolve a preference for younger males. Females in this model could determine a male's age, but not his inherited genotype nor his mutation load. Nevertheless, females evolved age-preferences that led them to mate with males that had low mutation loads, but showed no preference for males with respect to their somatic quality. These results suggest that germ-line quality, rather than somatic quality, should be the focus of female preference in good genes models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Algorithms
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Female
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reproductive Behavior*