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Niemela, Petri T.; Tiso, Stefano and Dingemanse, Niels J. (2021): Density-dependent individual variation in male attractiveness in a wild field cricket. In: Behavioral Ecology, Vol. 32, No. 4: pp. 707-716

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Social environments modify a male's ability to attract females and thus affect its fitness. Theory implies that an individual's fitness should trade-off with its ability to cope with competition. Individuals are expected to solve this trade-off differently: some males should be more attractive at low but others instead at high density. This prediction has rarely been tested in the wild. We used an automated RFID-surveillance system to quantify for each hour of the day, over 30 days (i.e., almost the entire adult lifespan of our model organism), whether a male had attracted a female in its burrow. The data were collected across a range of naturally varying local densities in wild field crickets, Gryllus campestris. We also estimated whether the shape of the relationship between attractiveness and density was under selection. At the population level, attractiveness increased from low to intermediate density, suggesting an Allee effect. Attractiveness subsequently declined at higher densities, for example, because of detrimental effects of increased competition. Opposite to expectations, males that were more attractive under low densities were also more attractive under higher densities. However, the increase in attractiveness with density varied among males, suggesting that Allee effects were individual-specific. Finally, selection was not acting on density-dependent attractiveness but males that lived longer acquired more mating partners. Our study reveals that social environments shape attractiveness in wild male insects, and imply the occurrence of individual-specific Allee effect that may be evolvable.

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