Competition between males improves resilience against climate change

April 17, 2018

Animal species with males who compete intensively for mates might be more resilient to the effects of climate change, according to research by Queen Mary University of London.

Moths exposed to increasing temperatures were found to produce more eggs and have better offspring survival when the population had more males competing for mating opportunities (three males for every female).

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that sexual selection can provide a buffer against climate change and increase adaptation rates within a changing environment. This could improve understanding of how changing environments might affect animal species in both natural and agricultural systems.

PhD student and lead author Jon Parrett from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said: "Climate change is altering environments all over the world in a variety of ways, with increases in temperature of several degrees being likely in many places. It is vitally important that we understand how animal populations will respond to these changing environments. Our study is the first to look at how sexual selection affects an animal population's ability to respond to gradual increases in temperature."

"We found that moths were more likely to succeed in stressful environments of increasing temperature when there were more males competing for mating opportunities. This is because males who were best adapted to the new environment were more likely to be mated with, and these successful fathers passed on their 'good genes' to their offspring, aiding survival in the new environment."

Several populations of the Indian meal moth Plodia interpunctella were established with either a male-biased sex ratio of three males for every female (strong competition) or a female-biased sex ratio of one male for every three females (weak competition). The team then gradually increased the temperature that they were reared at by 2°C every other generation.

As temperature increased beyond the normal range for these animals, populations showed declines in the number of eggs produced per female and also in the survival of offspring to adulthood.

The populations kept with a male-biased sex ratio, however, were more resilient to increasing temperatures. Production of offspring and survival rates were still affected, but significantly less than in the female-biased populations.

The team extended the study by comparing females who were allowed to choose their mates with females who were only given a single option of a male to mate with. They found that when females were allowed to be choosy they also laid more eggs and had better offspring survival in the face of increasing temperatures.

These positive effects of sexual selection may, however, be too small to protect populations and delay extinction when environmental changes are relatively rapid.

Co-author Dr Rob Knell from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said: "We used a laboratory system for this research, but our conclusions are likely to be applicable to many animal species. Intense competition for mates is a feature of many well-known animals: rutting stags, displaying peacocks, male birds of paradise and singing male crickets are all trying to win the mating game.

"Our results indicate that these competitive mating systems can play an important role in determining the response to new environments, whereas species where there is less competition for mates are likely to be less able to adapt to new conditions."

The authors caution that the study is only a laboratory demonstration of the effect and more research is needed to fully understand how these effects might operate in natural systems.
-end-
For more information, please contact:
Joel Winston
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
Tel: +44 (0)207 882 7943
Mobile: +44 (0)7970 096 188
j.winston@qmul.ac.uk

Notes to the editor

Research paper: Parrett JM, Knell RJ. 2018. The effect of sexual selection on adaptation and extinction under increasing temperatures. Proc. R. Soc. B 20180303.

Available here after the embargo lifts: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.0303

About Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London is one of the UK's leading universities with 25,332 students representing more than 160 nationalities.

A member of the Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our research. In the most recent national assessment of the quality of research, we were placed ninth in the UK amongst multi-faculty universities (Research Excellence Framework 2014).

As well as our main site at Mile End - which is home to one of the largest self-contained residential campuses in London - we have campuses at Whitechapel, Charterhouse Square, and West Smithfield dedicated to the study of medicine and dentistry, and a base for legal studies at Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Queen Mary began life as the People's Palace, a Victorian philanthropic project designed to bring culture, recreation and education to the people of the East End. We also have roots in Westfield College, one of the first colleges to provide higher education to women; St Bartholomew's Hospital, one of the first public hospitals in Europe; and The London, one of England's first medical schools.

Queen Mary University of London

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.