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Holtmann, Benedikt and Dingemanse, Niels J. (2021): Strong phenotypic trait correlations between mating partners do not result from assortative mating in wild great tits (Parus major). In: Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 35, No. 4: pp. 552-560

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There is considerable debate about the occurrence of assortative mating between phenotypic traits measured within natural populations. Meta-analyses have implied that assortative mating occurs generally in natural populations, but recent work indicates these conclusions largely result from biased data. Specifically, estimates of phenotypic correlations between mating partners do not solely result from nonrandom associations between individual-level traits of partners but also from other biological processes (joint phenotypic plasticity, indirect genetic effects), methodological practices (observer bias) and other unexplained residual correlations (e.g. correlated measurement error). This paper puts this critique to test. First, we estimated the overall phenotypic correlation between phenotypic traits of mating partners for a wild population of great tits. Second, we estimated various key variance components to reveal the extent to which phenotypic correlations between partners resulted from assortative mating, reversible plasticity, social partner effects and methodological practices. We performed our analyses for a range of phenotypic traits (body mass, breathing rate, exploration behaviour, wing and tarsus length) to derive general conclusions not hinging on the specifics of the traits involved. Our analyses support the conclusion that patterns of assortative mating exist at first glance but occur because of the biasing effects of correlated residuals likely caused by a combination of phenotypic responses to unknown environmental factors or measurement error-not because of intrinsic patterns of assortative mating.

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