Incidental sanctions and the evolution of direct benefits

William E. Wagner, Alexandra L. Basolo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Recent research has shown that a variety of traits that increase male success in mating and sperm competition can impose costs on females, resulting in antagonistic coevolution between the sexes. Yet, in many animals, females are known to receive direct benefit from their mates, including many in which female multiple mating results in intense sperm competition among males. The most common explanation for the evolution of male-provided direct benefits is pre-mating female choice based on benefit quality. This explanation is insufficient, however, for those direct benefits that females cannot directly assess prior to mating. Given that intrasexual selection will often favor male traits that increase female mating costs, many types of direct benefits can thus be difficult to explain. In this paper, we review four additional hypotheses for the evolution of male-provided direct benefits, and present a fifth hypothesis that has received little attention. This latter hypothesis proposes that selection often favors female reproductive tactics that are conditional upon the past costs and benefits of mating. These conditional female reproductive tactics should evolve because the quality of the benefit provided by a previous mate can change the costs and benefits of alternative reproductive decisions. Furthermore, many of the conditional reproductive tactics we might expect females to express should incidentally penalize males which provide lower quality direct benefits. These conditional reproductive tactics may thus play an important role in determining whether females incur costs or receive benefits from their mates. In addition to favoring the evolution of direct benefits, we argue that conditional female reproductive tactics may also favor reliable signaling of benefit quality. The most common explanation for reliable signaling is the handicap mechanism, which proposes that differential costs of signaling prevent low quality males from deceptively producing attractive signals. For direct benefits, however, there is a second type of deception: males which produce attractive signals and can afford to provide high quality direct benefits may choose to cheat on the advertised benefit. The handicap mechanism does nothing to prevent cheating on direct benefits by males which can afford to produce attractive signals, and is thus insufficient for ensuring reliable signaling of benefit quality. In contrast, conditional female reproductive tactics that incidentally penalize low benefit males should also penalize males which cheat on the benefits advertised by their signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-539
Number of pages19
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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