Tell me who you mate with, I’ll tell you what’s going on

Sara Magalhaes and Alexandre Courtiol based on reviews by Alexandre Courtiol and 2 anonymous reviewers

A recommendation of:
Antonio Carvajal-Rodríguez. Multi-model inference of non-random mating from an information theoretic approach (2019), bioRxiv, 305730, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. 10.1101/305730
Submitted: 08 February 2019, Recommended: 06 June 2019
Cite this recommendation as:
Sara Magalhaes and Alexandre Courtiol (2019) Tell me who you mate with, I’ll tell you what’s going on. Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology, 100075. 10.24072/pci.evolbiol.100075

The study of sexual selection goes as far as Darwin himself. Since then, elaborate theories concerning both intra- and inter-sexual sexual have been developed, and elegant experiments have been designed to test this body of theory. It may thus come as a surprise that the community is still debating on the correct way to measure simple components of sexual selection, such as the Bateman gradient (i.e., the covariance between the number of matings and the number of offspring)[1,2], or to quantify complex behaviours such as mate choice (the non-random choice of individuals with particular characters as mates)[3,4] and their consequences.
One difficulty in the study of sexual selection is evaluating the consequences of non-random mating. Indeed, when non-random mating is observed in a population, it is often difficult to establish whether such mating pattern leads to i) sexual selection per se (selection pressures favouring certain phenotypes), and/or ii) the non-random association of parental genes in their offspring or not. These two processes differ. In particular, assortative (and disassortative) mating can shape genetic covariances without leading to changes in gene frequencies in the population. Their distinction matters because these two processes lead to different evolutionary outcomes, which can have large ripple effects in the evolution of sexual behaviours, sexual ornamentation, and speciation.
In his paper, entitled “Multi-model inference of non-random mating from an information theoretic approach” [5], Carvajal-Rodríguez tackled this issue. The author generated a simple model in which the consequences of non-random mating can be inferred from information on the population frequencies before and after mating. The procedure is as follows: from the initial population frequencies of phenotypes (or genotypes) of both sexes, the model generates predictions on the frequencies after mating, assuming that particular mating patterns have occurred. This leads to different predictions for the phenotypic (or genotypic) frequencies after mating. The particular mating pattern leading to the best fit with the real frequencies is then identified via a model selection procedure (performing model averaging to combine different mating patterns is also possible).
This study builds on a framework introduced by Carvajal-Rodríguez’s colleagues [6] and encompasses later methodological developments involving the author himself [7]. Compared to early work, the new method proposed by the author builds on the relationship between mating pattern and information [8] to distinguish among scenarios that would lead to non-random mating due to different underlying processes, using simple model selection criterion such as the AICc.
The great asset of the proposed method is that it can be applied to the study of natural populations in which the study of mate choice and sexual selection is notoriously difficult. In the manuscript, the procedure is tested on a population of marine gastropods (Littorina saxatilis). This allows the reader to grasp how the method can be applied to a real system. In fact, anyone can try out the method thanks to the freely available software InfoMating programmed by the author. One important assumption underlying the current method is that the frequencies of unmated individuals do not change during the mating season. If this is not the case, the reader may refer to another publication of the same author which relaxes this assumption [9]. These papers are both instrumental for empiricists interested in testing sexual selection theory.


[1] Bateman, A. J. (1948). Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila. Heredity, 2(3), 349-368. doi: 10.1038/hdy.1948.21
[2] Jones, A. G. (2009). On the opportunity for sexual selection, the Bateman gradient and the maximum intensity of sexual selection. Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution, 63(7), 1673-1684. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00664.x
[3] Andersson, M., & Simmons, L. W. (2006). Sexual selection and mate choice. Trends in ecology & evolution, 21(6), 296-302. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2006.03.015
[4] Kuijper, B., Pen, I., & Weissing, F. J. (2012). A guide to sexual selection theory. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 43, 287-311. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-110411-160245
[5] Carvajal-Rodríguez, A. (2019). Multi-model inference of non-random mating from an information theoretic approach. bioRxiv, 305730, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/305730
[6] Rolán‐Alvarez, E., & Caballero, A. (2000). Estimating sexual selection and sexual isolation effects from mating frequencies. Evolution, 54(1), 30-36. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00004.x
[7] Carvajal-Rodríguez, A., & Rolan-Alvarez, E. (2006). JMATING: a software for the analysis of sexual selection and sexual isolation effects from mating frequency data. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 6(1), 40. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-6-40
[8] Carvajal-Rodríguez, A. (2018). Non-random mating and information theory. Theoretical population biology, 120, 103-113. doi: 10.1016/j.tpb.2018.01.003
[9] Carvajal-Rodríguez, A. (2019). A generalization of the informational view of non-random mating: Models with variable population frequencies. Theoretical population biology, 125, 67-74. doi: 10.1016/j.tpb.2018.12.004