Kin-mediated plasticity in alternative reproductive tactics

Samuel J. Lymbery, Joseph L. Tomkins, Bruno A. Buzatto, David J. Hosken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conditional strategies occur when the relative fitness pay-off from expressing a given phenotype is contingent upon environmental circumstances. This conditional strategy model underlies cases of alternative reproductive tactics, in which individuals of one sex employ different means to obtain reproduction. How kin structure affects the expression of alternative reproductive tactics remains unexplored. We address this using the mite Rhizoglyphus echinopus, in which large males develop into aggressive 'fighters' and small males develop into non-aggressive 'scramblers.' Because only fighters kill their rivals, they should incur a greater indirect fitness cost when competing with their relatives, and thus fighter expression could be reduced in the presence of relatives. We raised mites in full-sibling or mixed-sibship groups and found that fighters were more common at higher body weights in full-sibling groups, not less common as we predicted (small individuals were almost exclusively scramblers in both treatments). This result could be explained if relatedness and cue variability are interpreted signals of population density, since fighters are more common at low densities in this species. Alternatively, our results may indicate that males compete more intensely with relatives in this species. We provide the first evidence of kin-mediated plasticity in the expression of alternative reproductive tactics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20211069
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1956
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • alternative reproductive tactics
  • conditional strategy
  • kin selection
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • population density
  • relatedness


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