Evolution of a Sexually Dimorphic Trait in a Broadly Distributed Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus)
Understanding the interaction between sexual and natural selection within variable environments is crucial to our understanding of evolutionary processes. The handicap principle predicts females will prefer males with exaggerated traits provided those traits are indicators of male quality to ensure direct or indirect female benefits. Spatial variability in ecological factors is expected to alter the balance between sexual and natural selection that defines the evolution of such traits. Male and female blackspotted topminnows (Fundulidae: Fundulus olivaceus) display prominent black dorsolateral spots that are variable in number across its broad range. We investigated variability in spot phenotypes at 117 sites across 13 river systems and asked if the trait was sexually dimorphic and positively correlated with measures of fitness (condition and gonadosomatic index [GSI]). Laboratory and mesocosm experiments assessed femalemate choice and predation pressure on spot phenotypes. Environmental and community data collected at sampling locations were used to assess predictive models of spot density at the individual, site, and river system level. Greater number of spots was positively correlated with measures of fitness in males. Males with more spots were preferred by females and suffered greater mortality due to predation. Water clarity (turbidity) was the best predictor of spot density on the drainage scale, indicating that sexual and natural selection for the trait may be mediated by local light environments.