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Audience effects in the Atlantic molly (Poecilia mexicana)–prudent male mate choice in response to perceived sperm competition risk?

Author(s): Ziege Madlen | Mahlow Kristin | Hennige-Schulz Carmen | Kronmarck Claudia | Tiedemann Ralph | Streit Bruno | Plath Martin

Journal: Frontiers in Zoology
ISSN 1742-9994

Volume: 6;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 17;
Date: 2009;
Original page

Abstract Background Multidirectional interactions in social networks can have a profound effect on mate choice behavior; e.g., Poecilia mexicana males show weaker expression of mating preferences when being observed by a rival. This may be an adaptation to reduce sperm competition risk, which arises because commonly preferred female phenotypes will receive attention also from surrounding males, and/or because other males can copy the focal male's mate choice. Do P. mexicana males indeed respond to perceived sperm competition risk? We gave males a choice between two females and repeated the tests under one of the following conditions: (1) an empty transparent cylinder was presented (control); (2) another ("audience") male inside the cylinder observed the focal male throughout the 2nd part, or (3) the audience male was presented only before the tests, but could not eavesdrop during the actual choice tests (non-specific sperm competition risk treatments); (4) the focal male could see a rival male interact sexually with the previously preferred, or (5) with the non-preferred female before the 2nd part of the tests (specific sperm competition risk treatments). Results The strength of individual male preferences declined slightly also during the control treatment (1). However, this decrease was more than two-fold stronger in audience treatment (2), i.e., with non-specific sperm competition risk including the possibility for visual eavesdropping by the audience male. No audience effect was found in treatments (3) and (5), but a weak effect was also observed when the focal male had seen the previously preferred female sexually interact with a rival male (treatment 4; specific sperm competition risk). Conclusion When comparing the two 'non-specific sperm competition risk' treatments, a very strong effect was found only when the audience male could actually observe the focal male during mate choice [treatment (2)]. This suggests that focal males indeed attempt to conceal their mating preferences so as to prevent surrounding males from copying their mate choice. When there is no potential for eavesdropping [treatment (3)], non-specific specific sperm competition risk seems to play a minor or no role. Our results also show that P. mexicana males tend to share their mating effort more equally among females when the resource value of their previously preferred mate decreases after mating with a rival male (perceived specific sperm competition risk), but this effect is comparatively weak.
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