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Evo­lu­tion


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201321Jun18:08

Bio­log­i­cal fit­ness trumps other traits in mat­ing game

Infor­ma­tion
pub­lished 21 June 2013 | mod­i­fied 30 May 2014
Archived

Heliconius butterflyWhen a new species emerges fol­low­ing adap­tive changes to its local envi­ron­ment, the process of choos­ing a mate can help pro­tect the new species’ genetic iden­tity and increase the like­li­hood of its sur­vival. But of the many observ­able traits in a poten­tial mate, which par­tic­u­lar traits does a female tend to prefer?

A new study from the National Insti­tute for Math­e­mat­i­cal and Bio­log­i­cal Syn­the­sis (NIM­BioS) finds that a female’s mat­ing deci­sions are largely based on traits that reflect fit­ness or those that help males per­form well under the local eco­log­i­cal con­di­tions. Males’ bright colours, flashy orna­ments, and elab­o­rate songs are exam­ples of fitness-​related traits that females appear to have evolved to pre­fer, accord­ing to the study, which appeared online on 19 June in the jour­nal Ecol­ogy Let­ters.

An exam­ple of these fitness-​related traits can be found in the trop­i­cal Heli­co­nius but­ter­fly, where diverg­ing colour pat­terns on the but­ter­flies’ wings influ­ence mate choice and hence diver­gence of pop­u­la­tions. Another exam­ple are Darwin’s finches, whose beaks evolved over mil­lions of years with changes in bird­song, an impor­tant mat­ing sig­nal, and thus con­tributed to the rise of new and dis­tinct finch species.

The study set­tles a long debate in evo­lu­tion­ary biol­ogy about the sur­pris­ing com­mon­al­ity of traits that play a cru­cial role in both sur­vival and mate choice. It was pre­vi­ously thought that such traits were uncom­mon and were thus named “magic traits.” How­ever, in unrav­el­ling the trick behind the so-​called magic traits, the study pre­dicts that these magic traits are far more com­mon in nature than expected, and in fact, pre­dicts that female mat­ing pref­er­ences may reflect forces of nat­ural selec­tion that were in place dur­ing the ori­gin of the species.

“Even if the link between sur­vival and mate choice is not there to start with, it will prob­a­bly evolve,” said lead author Xavier Thibert-​Plante.

Under­stand­ing the bio­log­i­cal basis of mat­ing behav­iour is impor­tant because it can shed light on how species bound­aries are formed and maintained.

Mat­ing pref­er­ence is cru­cial for the evo­lu­tion of new species because it reduces, and may in some cases elim­i­nate hybridiza­tion, which can pro­duce off­spring of mixed ances­try, slow­ing down or revers­ing adap­ta­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among emerg­ing species
(Xavier Thibert-​Plante)

(Source: NIM­BioS press release, 19.06.2013)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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