The role of parasites in explaining maintenance of polymorphism is an unexplored research avenue. In odonates, female-limited color polymorphism (one female morph mimicking the conspecific male and one or more gynochromatic morphs) is widespread. Here we investigated whether parasitism contributes to color polymorphism maintenance by studying six species of female dimorphic damselflies using large databases of field-collected animals. We predicted that androchrome females (male mimics) would be more intensively parasitized than gynochrome females which is, according to previous studies, counterbalanced by the advantages of the former when evading male harassment compared to gynochrome females. Here we show that in Ischnura denticollis and Enallagma novahispaniae, androchrome females suffer from a higher degree of parasitism than gynochromatic females, and contrary to prediction, than males. Thus, our study has detected a correlation between color polymorphism and parasitic burden in odonates. This leads us to hypothesize that natural selection, via parasite pressure, can explain in part how androchrome and gynochrome female color morphs can be maintained. Both morphs may cope with parasites in a different way: given that androchrome females are more heavily parasitized, they may pay a higher fecundity costs, in comparison to gynochrome females.

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Keywords Female polymorphism, Natural selection, Odonates, Parasites, Sexual selection
Persistent URL
Journal Oecologia
Sánchez-Guillén, R.A., Martínez-Zamilpa, S.M.J., Jiménez-Cortés, J.G., Forbes, M, & Córdoba-Aguilar, A. (2013). Maintenance of polymorphic females: Do parasites play a role?. Oecologia, 171(1), 105–113. doi:10.1007/s00442-012-2388-7