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The rock–paper–scissors game and the evolution of alternative male strategies


MANY species exhibit colour polymorphisms associated with alternative male reproductive strategies, including territorial males and 'sneaker males' that behave and look like females1–3. The prevalence of multiple morphs is a challenge to evolutionary theory because a single strategy should prevail unless morphs have exactly equal fitness4,5 or a fitness advantage when rare6,7. We report here the application of an evolutionary stable strategy model to a three-morph mating system in the side-blotched lizard. Using parameter estimates from field data, the model predicted oscillations in morph frequency, and the frequencies of the three male morphs were found to oscillate over a six-year period in the field. The fitnesses of each morph relative to other morphs were non-transitive in that each morph could invade another morph when rare, but was itself invadable by another morph when common. Concordance between frequency-dependent selection and the among-year changes in morph fitnesses suggest that male interactions drive a dynamic 'rock–paper–scissors' game7.

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Sinervo, B., Lively, C. The rock–paper–scissors game and the evolution of alternative male strategies. Nature 380, 240–243 (1996).

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