Fortune Favoring The Brave

A very large percentage of animal species have females making the final choice on important decisions such as mating partner. The popular theory is that the females use displays, social standing, size, etc. as a guide to who has the best genes and that governs their choice of mate. This all sounds very logical in a well-ordered world, but there isn’t much evidence to back it up.

The lack of evidence worried Chargé et al and they sought to dip a little deeper in the well (1). They chose the endangered Houbara bustard to play with. They use the lekking displays as a guide to male suitability – the more persistent, the better the genes would be judged. But they decided that the girlie bustards would be too bird brained to make reliable choices.

The experiments meant that the researchers acted as judges in the ‘come dancing’ displays. All fertilizations were then done in vitro and the eggs hatched by reliable, caring lab staff. The aim here was to remove the vagaries of fickle parenting.

However, to put greater pressure on the guys, they were given intramuscular injections of E coli polysaccharides to make it more difficult to put on a good display. The young hatchlings were fitted out with smart radio collars and they were followed to their demise. Note: not all died.

The results showed that the offspring of the toughest guys (those that shrugged off the sore muscles) that put on the best show, did better and had a greater chance of survival. So the ‘good genes’ go not to the fanciest dancers but to the toughest who could power through the pain barrier. Life changes very little.


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