Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 323–329

Females prefer larger leks: field experiments with ruffs (Philomachus pugnax)


  • David B. Lank
    • Department of BiologyQueens University
  • Constance M. Smith
    • Department of BiologyQueens University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00170598

Cite this article as:
Lank, D.B. & Smith, C.M. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1992) 30: 323. doi:10.1007/BF00170598


Preference by females for choosing mates at male aggregations has been hypothesized as the primary selective pressure favoring the formation of leks, but alternative hypotheses account for lek formation without invoking female preference. Observational studies to determine whether male mating success increases with lek size, as predicted under the female preference hypothesis, have produced inconsistent results, possibly due to covariation of lek size with other variables or to male-male or intersexual conflict over lek size. We tested whether females prefer larger leks in a field experiment with ruffs (Philomachus pugnax), a lekking sandpiper, in which male group size, composition, and location were controlled. Wild females chose the larger of two adjacent groups often enough such that males in larger groups had significantly higher per capita rates of female visitation (Table 3). Such behavior would probably lead to higher per male mating rates at larger leks, which is generally considered a necessary condition for female choice to select for lek display (Fig. 2). Lek size in nature will reflect both female preference for larger leks and competition among males, which may favor smaller lek size. All else being equal, however, female ruffs preferred to visit larger groups strongly enough to maintain lekking by males.

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© Springer-Verlag 1992