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Female choice for male immunocompetence: when is it worth it?


Disease resistance is not determined by any single immune component. Nevertheless, female choice for individual immune components could produce more disease-resistant offspring. Using a mathematical model, we tested whether female choice for male immune responsiveness was maintained or lost in simulated populations. We divided immunity into 3 different components: 2 different types of immune responsiveness (inducible immunity and constitutive immunity) and the ability to recognize pathogens. When the pathogen prevalence fluctuated from generation to generation, female choice for inducible or constitutive immunity was usually lost. Female choice for constitutive immunity was often lost even when choosiness carried no fitness penalty. Choosing for constitutive or inducible immunity produced a fitness advantage, when compared to non-choosers, during some generations, but not for others, depending on the identity of the most prevalent pathogens. Choosing for inducible or constitutive immunity led to high mortality when pathogens sensitive to the non-chosen component became prevalent in the population, giving non-choosers the advantage. Given that most animals experience fluctuating pathogen pressure, our model suggests that there may be little selection for female choice for male constitutive and/or inducible immunity in some species. We discuss the implications of our results for the study of female choice for male disease resistance.

Authors: Shelley A. Adamo, Raymond J. Spiteri

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