Silent night: adaptive disappearance of a sexual signal in a parasitized population of field crickets

Marlene Zuk, John T Rotenberry, Robin M Tinghitella

Abstract Sexual signals are often critical for mate attraction and reproduction, although their conspicuousness exposes them to parasites and predators. We document the near-disappearance of song, the sexual signal of crickets, and its replacement with a novel silent morph, in a population subject to strong natural selection by a deadly acoustically orienting parasitoid fly. On the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, more than 90% of male field crickets (Teleogryllus oceanicus) shifted in less than 20 generations from a normal-wing morphology to a mutated wing that renders males unable to call (flatwing). Flatwing morphology protects male crickets from the parasitoid, which uses song to find hosts, but poses obstacles for mate attraction, since females also use the males' song to locate mates. Field experiments support the hypothesis that flatwings overcome the difficulty of attracting females without song by acting as ‘satellites’ to the few remaining callers, showing enhanced phonotaxis to the calling song that increases female encounter rate. Thus, variation in behaviour facilitated establishment of an otherwise maladaptive morphological mutation.

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