CIE Spotlight: Early social experience shapes female mate choice in guppies

Authors: Macario, Alessandro; Croft, Darren P.; Endler, John A.; Darden, Safi K.

Source: BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 28 (3):833-843, MAY-JUN 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Mating decisions are often plastic and individuals adjust their decisions depending on the social and ecological environment. Whilst the implications of the social environment on mate choice has been well studied in species with parental care, surprisingly little research has examined the role played by the social environment experienced during ontogeny in species lacking parental care.

We used guppies to test the hypothesis that females alter their mate choice in response to variation in the distribution of male sexual traits encountered during development. To manipulate their juvenile experience, we exposed maturing females to groups of males differing in the values of male coloration, known to be sexual traits in guppies.

These exposures were carried out either during the entire developmental period or the latter half of the developmental period. Both choosiness and preference functions for a number of male color traits were affected by rearing treatments.

Furthermore, females exhibited disassortative preferences for the phenotypes experienced as juveniles, suggesting a rare-male advantage. Finally, depending on male stimuli, only long-exposed females formed preferences for specific male colors.

Our study demonstrates the importance of socially mediated preferences and highlights how preferences for rare phenotypes and fluctuating selection due to heterogeneity in signalling conditions may contribute to the maintenance of the polymorphism found in male color patterns.