The evolution of the placenta from a non-placental ancestor causes a shift of maternal investment from pre- to post-fertilization, creating a venue for parent-offspring conflicts during pregnancy. Theory predicts that the rise of these conflicts should drive a shift from a reliance on pre-copulatory female mate choice to polyandry in conjunction with post-zygotic mechanisms of sexual selection. This hypothesis has not yet been empirically tested. Here we apply comparative methods to test a key prediction of this hypothesis, which is that the evolution of placentation is associated with reduced pre-copulatory female mate choice. We exploit a unique quality of the livebearing fish family Poeciliidae: placentas have repeatedly evolved or been lost, creating diversity among closely related lineages in the presence or absence of placentation. We show that post-zygotic maternal provisioning by means of a placenta is associated with the absence of bright coloration, courtship behaviour and exaggerated ornamental display traits in males. Furthermore, we found that males of placental species have smaller bodies and longer genitalia, which facilitate sneak or coercive mating and, hence, circumvents female choice. Moreover, we demonstrate that post-zygotic maternal provisioning correlates with superfetation, a female reproductive adaptation that may result in polyandry through the formation of temporally overlapping, mixed-paternity litters. Our results suggest that the emergence of prenatal conflict during the evolution of the placenta correlates with a suite of phenotypic and behavioural male traits that is associated with a reduced reliance on pre-copulatory female mate choice.
ASJC Scopus subject areas