Maintaining polymorphisms for genes with effects of ecological significance may involve conflicting selection in males and females. We present data from a captive population of ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) showing that a dominant allele controls development into both small, ‘female mimic’ males (‘faeders’), and a previously undescribed class of small ‘female faeders’. Most male ruffs have elaborate breeding plumage and display behaviour, but 0.5–1.5% are faeders, which lack both. Females from a captive population previously lacking faeders were bred with two founder faeder males and their faeder sons. The faeders’ offspring had a quadrimodal size distribution comprising normal-sized males and females, faeders and atypically small females. By contrast, ornamented males fathered only normal-sized offspring. We conclude that both founding faeders were heterozygous for a faeder allele absent from the original population. This allele is dominant to previously described genes that determine development into independent versus satellite ornamented males. Unlike those genes, the faeder allele is clearly expressed in females. Small body size is a component of the male faeder mating strategy, but provides no obvious benefit to females. Bisexual expression of the gene provides the opportunity to quantify the strength of sexually antagonistic selection on a Mendelian trait
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