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Speciation and the evolution of mating preferences in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) Albert, Arianne Yvonne Kirk


My Ph.D research has examined the evolution of mating preferences and their role in speciation. I have addressed these topics empirically, using sympatric species pairs of limnetic and benthic threespine sticklebacks, and theoretically, with multilocus population genetics. Sticklebacks are small fish that occur in lakes, streams and estuaries throughout British Columbia. Most lakes contain one type of stickleback, however, several lakes support two differentially adapted sympatric species: a large benthic form (benthic), and a smaller zooplanktivorous form (limnetic). Chapter 2 examines the role of species interactions in shaping male mating preferences. I determined that the mate preferences of the small species have shifted from preferring large females (the ancestral state) to preferring small females due either to selection against hybrids (reinforcement), or to egg predation by the larger benthic species. Chapter 3 explores the idea that sexual imprinting may facilitate assortative mating between benthic and limnetic sticklebacks. Sexual imprinting occurs when individuals imprint on the phenotype of their parents, and subsequently prefer mates that resemble their parents. The results suggested that sexual imprinting does not contribute to assortative mating between the sympatric species pairs, implying that genetics are more important than early learning for the formation of mate preferences. Chapter 4 focuses on differences in male breeding colour between benthics and limnetics. The results reveal that limnetic males have more intense red and blue coloration than benthic and solitary males. These differences in colour could be due to reinforcement, to differences in visual sensitivity of females, or to territorial interactions between males. Chapter 5 examines the evolution of female mating preferences under different scenarios of sex-linkage, when the male display trait is sexually antagonistic. Theoretical analysis suggests that sexually antagonistic traits on the X chromosome (males XY, females XX), females will evolve to prefer mates carrying alleles beneficial to their daughters. In contrast, with a Z-linked trait (males ZZ, females ZW), females more often evolve preferences for mates carrying alleles beneficial to their sons (e.g., flashy displays). This provides an explanation for why males in ZW species have more elaborate sexual displays than males in XY species.

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