Alternative reproductive tactics in males are often associated with divergent phenotypes expressed as phenotypically plastic threshold traits. The evolution of threshold traits in these species has been modeled under the conditional evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). Both strategic and genetic models predict that perturbations to the fitness trade-off between the male morphs will lead to a shift in the ESS switch point of the threshold. So far, demographic factors that influence the competitive ability of male morphs have been investigated and related to intraspecific population variation in male dimorphic thresholds. Here we reveal evidence for the theoretical prediction that abiotic features of the environment, in particular its structural complexity, are likely to influence the ESS threshold. In the male dimorphic mite Sancassania berlesei, we monitored the survival of aggressive fighter males and their benign scrambler counterparts in populations that differed in structural complexity. We found that, consistent with our prediction, the complex habitat favored fighter males, enabling them to kill a greater number of rival scramblers. We found no effect of habitat complexity on the survival of fighter males. These results demonstrate how abiotic as well as biotic aspects of the environment can be important in determining the frequencies of males adopting alternative tactics in different species or populations.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2