, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 381-390
Date: 07 Oct 2008

Audience effect alters male but not female mating preferences

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Males often face strong mating competition by neighboring males in their social environment. A recent study by Plath et al. (Anim Behav 75:21–29, 2008a) has demonstrated that the visual presence of a male competitor (i.e., an audience male) affects the expression of male mating preferences in a poeciliid fish (Poecilia mexicana) with a weaker expression of mating preferences when an audience male observed the focal male. This may be a tactic to reduce sperm competition, since surrounding males likely share intrinsic preferences for female traits or copy mate choice decisions. Here, we examined the hypothesis that a same-sex audience would affect female mate preferences less than male mating preferences. Our hypothesis was based on the assumptions that (1) competition for mates in a fashion that would be comparable in strength to sperm competition or overt male–male aggression is absent among Poecilia females, and (2) P. mexicana females typically form female-biased shoals, such that almost any female mate choice in nature occurs in front of a female audience. Poecilia females (P. mexicana, surface and cave form, and the closely related gynogenetic Poecilia formosa) were given a choice between a large and a small male, and the tests were repeated while a conspecific, a heterospecific, or no audience female (control) was presented. Females spent more time in the neutral zone and, thus, less time near the males during the second part of a trial when an audience was presented, but—consistent with predictions—females showed only slightly weaker expression of mate preferences during the second part of the tests. This decline was not specific to the treatment involving an audience and was significantly weaker than the effect seen in the male sex.