Why patterns of assortative mating are key to study sexual selection and how to measure them.
McDonald GC., Pizzari T.
The study of sexual selection is being revolutionised by the realisation that most populations exhibit some degree of polyandry, i.e. females mating with multiple males. Polyandry can drastically change the operation of sexual selection on males as it reduces the reproductive success that males derive by mating with different females, by forcing their ejaculates to compete for fertilisation after copulation (sperm competition). Variation in polyandry within a population means that the impact of polyandry can differ drastically across males, depending on the polyandry of their own mating partners. Because the patterns through which males share mates within a population may have strong repercussions for variation in male reproductive success, measuring such patterns is critical to study the operation of sexual selection. Several methods have been proposed to measure the pattern of mate sharing at the population level. Here, we develop a new method (sperm competition intensity correlation, SCIC) and compare its performance against two established methods (Newman's assortativity and nestedness), using both idealised model populations and random simulated populations, across a range of biologically relevant population parameters: (i) population size, (ii) sex ratio and (iii) the 'mating density' of the population. We conclude that SCIC may be the most promising approach, as it is both internally consistent and robust across the parameter range. We discuss some important caveats and provide advice regarding the choice of method for future studies of sexual selection.