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The evolution of dynamic and flexible courtship displays that reveal individual quality

Cite this dataset

Hollon, Samuel H.; García-Ruiz, Irene; Veen, Thor; Fawcett, Tim W. (2023). The evolution of dynamic and flexible courtship displays that reveal individual quality [Dataset]. Dryad.


Abstract Sexual selection is a major force shaping morphological and behavioral diversity. Existing theory focuses on courtship display traits such as morphological ornaments whose costs and benefits are assumed be to fixed across individuals’ lifetimes. In contrast, empirically observed displays are often inherently dynamic, as vividly illustrated by the acrobatic dances, loud vocalizations, and vigorous motor displays involved in courtship behavior across a broad range of taxa. One empirically observed form of display flexibility occurs when signalers adjust their courtship investment based on the number of rival signalers. The predictions of established sexual selection theory cannot readily be extended to such displays because display expression varies between courtship events, such that any given display may not reliably reflect signaler quality. We thus lack an understanding of how dynamic displays coevolve with sexual preferences and how signalers should tactically adjust their display investment across multiple courtship opportunities. To address these questions, we extended an established model of the coevolution of a female sexual preference and a male display trait to allow for flexible, dynamic displays. We find that such a display can coevolve with a sexual preference away from their naturally selected optima, though display intensity is a weaker signal of male quality than for non-flexible displays. Furthermore, we find that males evolve to decrease their display investment when displaying alongside more rivals. This research represents a first step towards generalizing the findings of sexual selection theory to account for the ubiquitous dynamism of animal courtship. Significance statement Animal courtship displays are typically costly for survival: songs attract predators; dances are exhausting; extravagant plumage is cumbersome. Because of the trade-off between mating benefits and survival costs, displaying individuals often vary their displays across time, courting more intensely when the potential benefit is higher or the cost is lower. Despite the ubiquity of such adjustment in nature, existing theory cannot account for how this flexibility might affect the coevolution of displays with sexual preferences, nor for the patterns of tactical display adjustment that might result, because those models treat displays as static, with fixed costs and benefits. Generalizing a well-studied model of sexual selection, we find that a static display and a flexible display can evolve under similar conditions. Our model predicts that courtship should be less intense when more competitors are present.

Usage notes

The model is written in the C and C++ languages.