Common buzzards (Buteo buteo) show a plumage polymorphism that appears to be maintained by heterozygote advantage and allows a maladaptive form of mate choice to persist. The light and dark morphs have a much lower fitness than the presumed heterozygous intermediate morph, but are replenished through Mendelian segregation in intermediate-intermediate pairs. Light and dark morphs could maximize their fitness by mating light with dark to produce all intermediate offspring, but instead choose partners of their own color, thereby producing broods of minimally fit homozygotes. Such maladaptive behavior argues forcefully against mate choice based on “good genes,” and its persistence is best explained by heterozygote advantage maintaining the polymorphism coupled with nongenetic mate choice based on sexual imprinting. Modeling different patterns of mate choice shows that random mating and preference for own morph fit our data poorly, whereas preference for mother's morph yields a good fit.
Corresponding Editor: B. Crespi