Studies on arrival time to breeding areas show that high-quality males usually arrive first and gain the highest reproductive success. This is generally assumed to be due to phenotype-dependent costs and benefits of early arrival. We show that the opposite arrival order can occur, probably due to selection on poor-quality males to increase their chances of reproduction. In a fish species, the threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, small males arrived before larger males at the breeding grounds. Early arrival was costly because predation risk was at its highest at the start of the season and early territory establishment was selected against, as demonstrated by selection coefficients for territory maintenance and hatching success. Large males probably postponed arrival until females were available to decrease predation risk costs and increase offspring production. An experimental study showed that a delay in arrival of large males does not decrease their probability of reproduction, because large males are able to take over nest sites from small males. Small males, on the other hand, are less likely to establish territories in competition with large males but can pay the costs of early arrival in exchange for the benefit of access to territories. Thus, whereas natural selection favors later arrival, sexual selection through competition for breeding territories favors early arrival in small, competitively inferior males. This results in the benefits of early arrival depending on the competitive ability of the male, which favors size-dependent optimal arrival times.
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Vol. 57 • No. 4