When traits experience directional selection, such as that imposed by sexual selection, their genetic variance is expected to diminish. Nonetheless, theory and findings from sexual selection predict and demonstrate that male traits favored by female choice retain substantial amounts of additive genetic variance. We explored this dilemma through an ecological genetic approach and focused on the potential contributions of genotype × environment interaction (GEI) to maintenance of additive genetic variance for male signal characters in the lesser waxmoth, Achroia grisella (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). We artificially selected genetic variants for two male signal characters, signal rate (SR) and peak amplitude (PA), that influence female attraction and then examined the phenotypic plasticity of these variants (high- and low-SR and high- and low-PA lines) under a range of environmental conditions expected in natural populations.
Our split-family breeding experiments indicated that two signal characters, SR and PA, and several developmental characters in both high- and low-SR and high- and low-PA lines displayed considerable phenotypic plasticity among the environments tested. Moreover, strong GEIs leading to crossover between high- and low-SR lines were found for SR and developmental period. Therefore, neither high- nor low-SR genetic variants would achieve maximum attractiveness and fitness in every environment, and those variants producing unattractive signals with low SRs under normal conditions may remain in populations provided that gene flow across environments or generation overlap are sufficiently high. We speculate that the phenotypic plasticity for SR and developmental period is adaptive in A. grisella populations experiencing a range of temperature and density conditions.
Females mating with attractive (high-SR) males may be assured of obtaining good genes because these males sire offspring that develop more rapidly and a crossover for developmental period may parallel that for SR. Such parallel crossovers may be expected wherever good-genes sexual selection mechanisms operate.
Corresponding Editor: K. Ross