Bateman-Trivers in the 21st Century: Sexual selection in a North American pitviper

Brenna A. Levine, Charles F. Smith, Gordon W. Schuett, Marlis R. Douglas, Mark A. Davis, Michael E. Douglas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Assessment of sexual selection in organisms with cryptic life histories is challenging, although accurate parentage assignments using genotypic markers, combined with behavioural observations and a method to account for open population bias, allow for robust estimation of metrics. In the present study, we employed 22 tetranucleotide microsatellite DNA loci to interpret mating and reproductive success in a population of Copperhead (Viperidae, Agkistrodon contortrix) in Connecticut, USA. We sampled DNA from 114 adults (56 males, 58 females) and 137 neonates from known mothers to quantify Bateman gradients (βss), as well as sex-specific opportunities for selection (I) and sexual selection (Is). We also estimated selection on male size [snout-to-vent length (SVL)], a trait important for successful combat and subsequent copulations. Estimates of male I and Is differed significantly from those of females when estimated with four different methods and only males had a significant Bateman gradient. As predicted, male reproductive success was positively correlated with increasing SVL. These results contrast with those derived in another study investigating the same population but based solely on observational data and without correction for open population bias. We thus argue that molecular approaches to quantifying reproductive success and strength of sexual selection provide more accurate results than do behavioural observations alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-445
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Agkistrodon contortrix
  • Bateman's principles
  • Copperhead
  • Male body size
  • Mating systems
  • Reproductive success

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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