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Department of Integrative Biology,BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action,Department of Computer Sciences


Sexual signals are important in attracting and choosing mates; however, these signals and their associated preferences are often costly and frequently lost. Despite the prevalence of signaling system loss in many taxa, the factors leading to signal loss remain poorly understood. Here, we test the hypothesis that complexity in signal loss scenarios is due to the context-dependent nature of the many factors affecting signal loss itself. Using the Avida digital life platform, we evolved 50 replicates of ~250 lineages, each with a unique combination of parameters, including whether signaling is obligate or facultative; genetic linkage between signaling and receiving genes; population size; and strength of preference for signals. Each of these factors ostensibly plays a crucial role in signal loss, but was found to do so only under specific conditions. Under obligate signaling, genetic linkage, but not population size, influenced signal loss; under facultative signaling, genetic linkage does not have significant influence. Somewhat surprisingly, only a total loss of preference in the obligate signaling populations led to total signal loss, indicating that even a modest amount of preference is enough to maintain signaling systems. Strength of preference proved to be the strongest single force preventing signal loss, as it consistently overcame the potential effects of drift within our study. Our findings suggest that signaling loss is often dependent on not just preference for signals, population size, and genetic linkage, but also whether signals are required to initiate mating. These data provide an understanding of the factors (and their interactions) that may facilitate the maintenance of sexual signals.





Ecology and Evolution 5, no. 17 (2015)