The pathogen transmission avoidance theory of sexual selection

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The current theory that sexual selection results from female preference for males with good genes suffers from several problems. An alternative explanation, the pathogen transmission avoidance hypothesis, argues that the primary function of showy traits is to provide a reliable signal of current disease status, so that sick individuals can be avoided during mating. This study shows that a significant risk of pathogen transmission occurs during mating and that showy traits are reliable indicators of current disease status. The origin of female choosiness is argued to lie in a general tendency to avoid sick individuals, even in the absence of ... continued below

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44 p.

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Loehle, C. August 1, 1997.

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Description

The current theory that sexual selection results from female preference for males with good genes suffers from several problems. An alternative explanation, the pathogen transmission avoidance hypothesis, argues that the primary function of showy traits is to provide a reliable signal of current disease status, so that sick individuals can be avoided during mating. This study shows that a significant risk of pathogen transmission occurs during mating and that showy traits are reliable indicators of current disease status. The origin of female choosiness is argued to lie in a general tendency to avoid sick individuals, even in the absence of showy traits, which originate as exaggerations of normal traits that are indicative of good health (bright feathers, vigorous movement, large size). Thus, in this new model the origins of both showy traits and female choosiness are not problematic and there is no threshold effect. This model predicts that when the possession of male showy traits does not help to reduce disease in the female, showy traits are unlikely to occur. This case corresponds to thorough exposure of every animal to all group pathogens, on average, in large groups. Such species are shown with a large data set on birds to be less likely to exhibit showy traits. The good-genes model does not make this prediction. The pathogen transmission avoidance model can also lead to the evolution of showy traits even when selection is not effective against a given pathogen (e.g., when there is no heritable variation for resistance), but can result in selection for resistance if such genes are present. Monogamy is argued to reduce selection pressures for showy traits; data show monogamous species to be both less parasitized and less showy. In the context of reduction of pathogen transmission rates in showy populations, selection pressure becomes inversely frequency-dependent, which makes showy traits likely to be self-limiting rather than runaway.

Physical Description

44 p.

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OSTI as DE97008269

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  • Other Information: PBD: [1997]

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  • Other: DE97008269
  • Report No.: ANL/ER/PP--90099
  • Grant Number: W-31109-ENG-38
  • DOI: 10.2172/516036 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 516036
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc693780

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  • August 1, 1997

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Aug. 14, 2015, 8:43 a.m.

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  • Dec. 16, 2015, 5:14 p.m.

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Loehle, C. The pathogen transmission avoidance theory of sexual selection, report, August 1, 1997; Illinois. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc693780/: accessed December 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.