Original Paper


, Volume 94, Issue 8, pp 651-656

First online:

Developmental environment, cultural transmission, and mate choice copying

  • Lee Alan DugatkinAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Louisville Email author 

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Using female mate choice copying as a rudimentary form of cultural transmission, this study provides evidence that social environment during development has a significant effect on the tendency to use culturally acquired information. Groups of newborn guppies (Poecilia reticulata) were raised for 35 days in 1 of 5 “developmental environments”. Groups of 15 newborns were raised in pools with no adults (treatment 1), both adult male and female guppies (treatments 2 and 3), only adult females (treatment 4) or only adult males (treatment 5). Mature females raised in treatments 1 and 2, but not treatments 3, 4, and 5, copied the mate choice of others. Treatments 1 and 2 correspond to social structures that guppies experience during their development in the wild. Newborn guppies swim together in shoals (analogous to treatment 1). As they mature, juveniles join schools of adult males and females (analogous to treatments 2). At no time during the normal developmental process are juveniles found with males, but only unreceptive females (as was the case for long periods in treatment 3) or in the presence of adults of only one sex (analogous to treatments 4 and 5). As such, normal developmental environments prime guppies for cultural transmission, while unnatural environments fail to do so.