, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 215-223
Date: 25 Aug 2009

Operant conditioning and copulation solicitation display assays reveal a stable preference for local song by female swamp sparrows Melospiza georgiana

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Operant conditioning assays are increasingly being used to test mating signal preferences in female birds. Operant behavior may be seen as farther removed from mate choice behavior as compared to other methods for measuring mating signal preferences, which could limit the evolutionary interpretation of operant results. I compared the song preferences of female swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) as measured both by a copulation solicitation display assay and by an operant preference test. Both methods revealed a strong preference for songs from the females' Conneaut Marsh breeding population over songs from a Millbrook population over 500 km distant, which remained stable after extensive exposure to Millbrook songs. Further, there was a striking congruence in results on an individual level from the two assays. These findings support the conclusion that operant methods reveal evolutionarily significant mate choice preferences, providing the opportunity to study such preferences under circumstances when the copulation solicitation assay is less practical.

Communicated by I. Hartley