Strong spatial population structure shapes the temporal coevolutionary dynamics of costly female preference and male display

Maximilian Tschol* (Corresponding Author), Jane M. Reid, Greta Bocedi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Female mating preferences for exaggerated male display traits are commonplace. Yet, comprehensive understanding of the evolution and persistence of costly female preference through indirect (Fisherian) selection in finite populations requires some explanation for the persistence of additive genetic variance (Va) underlying sexual traits, given that directional preference is expected to deplete Va in display and hence halt preference evolution. However,
the degree to which Va, and hence preference-display coevolution, may be prolonged by spatially variable sexual selection arising solely from limited gene flow and genetic drift within spatially structured populations has not been examined. Our genetically and spatially explicit model shows that spatial population structure arising in an ecologically homogeneous environment can facilitate evolution and long-term persistence of costly preference given small
subpopulations and low dispersal probabilities. Here, genetic drift initially creates spatial variation in female preference, leading to persistence of Va
in display through “migration-bias” of genotypes maladapted to emerging local sexual selection, thus fuelling coevolution of costly preference and display. However, costs of sexual selection increased the probability of subpopulation extinction, limiting persistence of high preference-display genotypes. Understanding long-term dynamics of sexual selection systems therefore requires joint consideration of coevolution of sexual traits and metapopulation dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-648
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

We thank B. Willink Castro and W. R. Tschol for their helpful insights throughout the project. MT and GB were funded by the Royal Society through GB's University Research Fellowship (UF160614) and Research Fellows Enhancement Award (RGF\EA\180184). JMR was supported by Research Council of Norway (SFF-III, project 223257) and NTNU. Computer simulations were performed using the Maxwell Computing Cluster at the University of Aberdeen.

Data Availability Statement

Source code has been deposited on


  • dispersal
  • genetic drift
  • mating preference
  • sexual selection
  • spatial population structure


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