Crater_Expt1_AdultData.csv from Male sexual signal predicts phenotypic plasticity in offspring: implications for the evolution of plasticity and local adaptation

In a rapidly changing world, understanding the processes that influence a population's ability to respond to natural selection is critical for identifying how to preserve biodiversity. Two such processes are phenotypic plasticity and sexual selection. Whereas plasticity can facilitate local adaptation, sexual selection potentially impedes local adaptation, especially in rapidly changing or variable environments. Here we hypothesize that, when females preferentially choose males that sire plastic offspring, sexual selection can actually facilitate local adaptation to variable or novel environments by promoting the evolution of adaptive plasticity. We tested this hypothesis by evaluating whether male sexual signals could indicate plasticity in their offspring and, concomitantly, their offspring's ability to produce locally adapted phenotypes. Using spadefoot toads (Spea multiplicata) as our experimental system, we show that a male sexual signal predicts plasticity in his offspring's resource-use morphology. Specifically, faster-calling males (which are preferred by females) produce more plastic offspring; such plasticity, in turn, enables these males' offspring to respond adaptively to the spadefoots’ highly variable environment. The association between a preferred male signal and adaptive plasticity in his offspring suggests that female mate choice can favour the evolution and maintenance of phenotypic plasticity and thereby foster adaptation to a variable environment.This article is part of the theme issue ‘The role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change’.