Female lizards discriminate between potential reproductive partners using multiple male traits when territory cues are absent
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- Swierk, L., Ridgway, M. & Langkilde, T. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 1033. doi:10.1007/s00265-012-1351-2
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Female choice can powerfully influence the evolution of male phenotypes. In territorial species, it is challenging to determine the targets of female choice because male traits (e.g., behavior and morphology) are often correlated with territory. We sought to elucidate if and how females specifically evaluate male traits in a territorial species. In this study, we presented female fence lizards, Sceloporus undulatus, with two potential mates to examine mate choice in the absence of territory cues. Females associated more with males possessing better body condition, longer heads, and wider throat badges, and that performed more shudder behavior, which females responded to by approaching shuddering males and performing push-ups. A post hoc decision tree analysis suggests that the strongest predictor of female association was an overall quality index that incorporates all of these traits, rather than individual traits. Male snout–vent length, head width, abdominal badge width, and push-up behavior did not affect female association. Further research on why these traits, which are known to correlate with fitness, do not appear to be used by females when selecting mates would improve our understanding of the evolution of male traits. Our study reveals that females of this territorial species possess the ability to use multiple male traits interactively to make fitness-relevant mate choice decisions in the absence of direct territory cues.