Sexual networks: measuring sexual selection in structured, polyandrous populations.
McDonald GC., James R., Krause J., Pizzari T.
Sexual selection is traditionally measured at the population level, assuming that populations lack structure. However, increasing evidence undermines this approach, indicating that intrasexual competition in natural populations often displays complex patterns of spatial and temporal structure. This complexity is due in part to the degree and mechanisms of polyandry within a population, which can influence the intensity and scale of both pre- and post-copulatory sexual competition. Attempts to measure selection at the local and global scale have been made through multi-level selection approaches. However, definitions of local scale are often based on physical proximity, providing a rather coarse measure of local competition, particularly in polyandrous populations where the local scale of pre- and post-copulatory competition may differ drastically from each other. These limitations can be solved by social network analysis, which allows us to define a unique sexual environment for each member of a population: 'local scale' competition, therefore, becomes an emergent property of a sexual network. Here, we first propose a novel quantitative approach to measure pre- and post-copulatory sexual selection, which integrates multi-level selection with information on local scale competition derived as an emergent property of networks of sexual interactions. We then use simple simulations to illustrate the ways in which polyandry can impact estimates of sexual selection. We show that for intermediate levels of polyandry, the proposed network-based approach provides substantially more accurate measures of sexual selection than the more traditional population-level approach. We argue that the increasing availability of fine-grained behavioural datasets provides exciting new opportunities to develop network approaches to study sexual selection in complex societies.