Causes and consequences of sexual selection in a wild population
Stopher, Katie Vivienne
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Although sexual selection in nature has been studied intensively, much is still unknown about the evolution of mating systems in wild populations: for example, how male competition and female choice interact, or the effect of environmental heterogeneity on selection. Further, important questions remain about the consequences of sexual selection for genetic structuring and genetic variation within populations. In this thesis, I investigate the causes and consequences of sexual selection in a polygynous mammal, the red deer Cervus elaphus. This species is characterized by high male reproductive skew resulting from competition to defend harems of females. Here however, I present evidence for previously unappreciated complexity in the mating system, in terms of female mating behaviour and environmental influences on male-male competition. I then go on to investigate the consequences of non-random mating on co-ancestry and inbreeding in the population. Finally, I investigate methods for separating genetic and environmental sources of covariance between individuals. Specifically, I: (i) Show a surprising degree of female mobility during the breeding season (the 'rut‘). Around 40% of females change harem when in oestrus and almost half of these movements result in paternity for the novel male; however I show that these movements are unlikely to be explained by female choice for mates. (ii) Reveal that variance in male mating success is affected by variation in ecological parameters, in particular the interaction between the number of immigrant males in the rutting population and the temporal synchrony of females. (iii) Demonstrate substantial inter-individual differences in the plasticity of acoustic signals produced by rutting males with changes in social context. (iv) Reveal the existence in this population of three rarely reported mating behaviours in polygynous mammals. I find around a fifth of females mate with the same male in multiple years; female relatives frequently mate with the same male; and males rut in locations close to their relatives. Further, I show these behaviours are associated with higher co-ancestry and inbreeding in the population than expected under random mating. (v) Finally, I investigate how spatial associations between relatives upwardly bias estimates of heritability in four phenotypic traits. I do this by accounting for shared environment effects in animal models by i) inclusion of spatial autocorrelation parameters and ii) a novel multi-matrix approach.