Canada Research Chair in Quantitative Evolutionary Genetics
Tier 2 - 2006-01-01
University of Ottawa
Natural Sciences and Engineering
613-562-5800 ext. 2835
Coming to Canada from
University of Queensland, Australia
Understanding the evolutionary causes and consequences of mate preferences.
The research is leading to a better understanding of why individuals choose certain mates over others and what consequence this has for adaptation and the origin of new species.
Who Turns Who On: The Mysteries of Mate Choice
In many species it is common for individuals to have preferences regarding mates. The question is, why have mate preferences evolved given that for females, mate preferences can be costly, potentially increasing their risk of predation, causing them to waste time that could be spent foraging, and even reducing their chances of mating at all. Such costs must be offset by some kind of benefit, otherwise mate preferences would be selected against through the normal processes of evolution. And as for males, remarkably, mate preferences are common even in species where males contribute little to their mate or their offspring beyond their genes.
One leading hypothesis regarding mate preferences holds that some males are preferred over others because of their high genetic quality; by mating with these males, females ensure that their offspring receive "good genes." Although mathematical models suggest that this appealing hypothesis can occur, there is, as yet, little experimental evidence to support it.
That's where the work of Canada Research Chair Howard Rundle comes in: He is exploring the whole issue of mate preference. He wants answers to such questions as what are the specific mechanisms by which mate preferences have evolved? And, what are the evolutionary consequences of mate preferences for adaptation and the origin of new species?
In his evolutionary experiments as well as his quantitative genetic studies, Rundle uses a species of fruit fly in which mate preferences are well understood; the preferences have been discovered to depend on a suite of chemicals, called contact pheromones, which are found on the cuticle of the fly. As strange as it may seem now, Rundle's work on these nondescript flies may eventually help us to understand the mystery of who turns who on.