A trend for larger males to obtain a disproportionately high number of matings, as occurs in many animal populations, typically is attributed either to female choice or success in male-male rivalry; an alternative mechanism, that larger males are better able to coercively inseminate females, has received much less attention. For example, previous studies on garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) at communal dens in Manitoba have shown that the mating benefit to larger body size in males is due to size-dependent advantages in male-male rivalry. However, this previous work ignored the possibility that larger males may obtain more matings because of male-female interactions. In staged trials within outdoor arenas, larger body size enhanced male mating success regardless of whether a rival male was present. The mechanism involved was coercion rather than female choice, because mating occurred most often (and soonest) in females that were least able to resist courtship-induced hypoxic stress. Males do physically displace rivals from optimal positions in the mating ball, and larger males are better able to resist such displacement. Nonetheless, larger body size enhances male mating success even in the absence of such male-male interactions. Thus, even in mating systems where males compete physically and where larger body size confers a significant advantage in male-male competition, the actual selective force for larger body size in males may relate to forcible insemination of unreceptive females. Experimental studies are needed to determine whether the same situation occurs in other organisms in which body-size advantages have been attributed to male-male rather than male-female interactions.
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Vol. 59 • No. 11