Choosy males from the underground: male mating preferences in surface- and cave-dwelling Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana)
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- Plath, M., Seggel, U., Burmeister, H. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2006) 93: 103. doi:10.1007/s00114-005-0072-z
Atlantic mollies (Poecilia mexicana) inhabit a variety of surface habitats, but they also occur in a sulfur cave in southern Mexico. We examined male mate choice relative to female body size in the cave population and in the most closely related surface-dwelling population from a nearby river. Males from both populations were either light- or dark-reared and could choose between two differently sized females either on the basis of visual cues in light or on the basis of solely nonvisual cues in darkness. Sexual preferences were estimated from the degree of association. Cave molly males always showed a preference for the larger female, both in light and in darkness. Among the surface males, only light-reared males showed a preference in the visual cues test, but not in darkness. In a control experiment, we demonstrated that male association preferences directly translate into actual mating preferences. Apparently, using visual cues for mate choice is the ancestral state in this system, and using nonvisual cues has evolved as a novel trait in the cave population. We discuss the evolution of nonvisual male mate choice in the context of changed environmental conditions, namely the absence of light, hypoxia, and toxic hydrogen sulfide in the cave.