How multiple mating by females affects sexual selection

Stephen M. Shuster, William R. Briggs, Patricia A. Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Multiple mating by females is widely thought to encourage post-mating sexual selection and enhance female fitness. We show that whether polyandrous mating has these effects depends on two conditions. Condition 1 is the pattern of sperm utilization by females; specifically, whether, among females, male mating number, m (i.e. the number of times a male mates with one or more females) covaries with male offspring number, o. Polyandrous mating enhances sexual selection only when males who are successful at multiple mating also sire most or all of each of their mates' offspring, i.e. only when Cov♂m,o), is positive. Condition 2 is the pattern of female reproductive life-history; specifically, whether female mating number, m, covaries with female offspring number, o. Only semelparity does not erode sexual selection, whereas iteroparity (i.e. when Cov♀ (m,o), is positive) always increases the variance in offspring numbers among females, which always decreases the intensity of sexual selection on males. To document the covariance between mating number and offspring number for each sex, it is necessary to assign progeny to all parents, as well as identify mating and non-mating individuals. To document significant fitness gains by females through iteroparity, it is necessary to determine the relative magnitudes of male as well as female contributions to the total variance in relative fitness. We show how such data can be collected, how often they are collected, and we explain the circumstances in which selection favouring multiple mating by females can be strong or weak.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1613
StatePublished - Mar 5 2013


  • Cryptic female choice
  • Female life-history
  • Opportunity for sexual selection
  • Polyandrous mating
  • Post-mating sexual selection
  • Sperm competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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