Sexual selection in genetic colour-polymorphic species: a review of experimental studies and perspectives

Alexandre Roulin*, Pierre Bize

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual selection theory has primarily focussed on the role of mating preferences for the best individuals in the evolution of condition-dependent ornaments, traits that signal absolute quality. Because the most suitable mate for one individual is not always the best for others, however, we argue that non-directional mate choice can promote the evolution of alternative morphs that are not condition-dependent in their expression (i.e. genetic polymorphism). We list the different mate-choice rules (i.e. all individuals have the same preference; preference depends on the chooser's morph; individuals mate preferentially with conspecifics displaying an uncommon or the most frequent morph) and review experimental studies that investigated mate choice in natural populations of colour-polymorphic animals. Our review emphasises that although the experimental data support the idea that sexual selection plays an important role in the evolution of genetic colour polymorphism in many different ways, little is known about the adaptive value of each mate-choice strategy and about their implication in the evolutionary stability of colour polymorphism. One way of solving this problem is to determine the adaptive function of colour morphs, a worthwhile objective, because better understanding of mate-choice rules in polymorphic species should provide important insights into sexual-selection processes and, in turn, into the maintenance of genetic variation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of ethology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2007

Bibliographical note

Julien Gasparini, Jérôme Goudet, and two anonymous referees provided useful comments on a earlier version of the text. The Swiss Science Foundation financed this work (grant n PP00A-102913 to AR and PPOOA-109009 to PB).


  • alternative strategies
  • condition-dependence
  • genetic colour polymorphism
  • mate choice
  • polymorphism
  • sexual selection
  • Ischnura-elegans odonata
  • white-throated sparrow
  • poecilia-reticulata
  • zonotrichia-albicollis
  • population divergence
  • evolution
  • damselflies
  • morphs
  • guppy


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