Mutation load is a key parameter in evolutionary theories, but relatively little empirical information exists on the mutation load of populations, or the elimination of this load through selection. We manipulated the opportunity for sexual selection within a mutation accumulation divergence experiment to determine how sexual selection on males affected the accumulation of mutations contributing to sexual and nonsexual fitness. Sexual selection prevented the accumulation of mutations affecting male mating success, the target trait, as well as reducing mutation load on productivity, a nonsexual fitness component. Mutational correlations between mating success and productivity (estimated in the absence of sexual selection) were positive. Sexual selection significantly reduced these fitness component correlations. Male mating success significantly diverged between sexual selection treatments, consistent with the fixation of genetic differences. However, the rank of the treatments was not consistent across assays, indicating that the mutational effects on mating success were conditional on biotic and abiotic context. Our experiment suggests that greater insight into the genetic targets of natural and sexual selection can be gained by focusing on mutational rather than standing genetic variation, and on the behavior of trait variances rather than means.
© 2011 The Author(s). Evolution© 2011 The Society for the Study of Evolution.