, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 433-438

Mate choice and the supernormality effect in female sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

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Summary

Female threespine sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus from a marine population were presented simultaneously with two dummy males that differed in size. When the dummies were moved with a carousel apparatus in a way that roughly simulated a male courtship activity (circling) females responded to the dummies with following behaviour normally directed to courting males. Female sexual response was elicited more effectively by the larger (“supernomal”) dummy, even though it exceeded by 25% the length of the largest males in the study population. Females did not show complete preference for the larger dummy but allocated courtship effort in proportion to the sizes of the two dummies (Fig. 3). The relative projection areas of the two dummies provided the best predictor of how courtship was allocated between them, suggesting a perceptual basis on which females might select mates. This pattern of partial preference for the supernormal dummy occurred in females that exhibited either high or low amounts of following behaviour and is apparently independent of female responsiveness. Supernormality may therefore provide a mechanism whereby secondary sexual traits can be elaborated, even without evolutionary change in preference for those traits by the opposite sex.