Female behaviour mediates male courtship under predation risk in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata)
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Previous work has shown that under elevated predation risk, male guppies (Poecilia reticulata) switch from courtship to less conspicuous coercive mating attempts. This behavioural transition is traditionally interpreted as a 'risk-sensitive' response that makes males less conspicuous to predators. However, predation risk leads to behavioural changes (such as schooling and predator inspection) in females that may result in coercive mating attempts being more profitable in high-risk situations. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the switch to coercive mating by male guppies in high-risk situations is mediated by adjustments in female behaviour, rather than directly by the predator. We used replicate models resembling a known guppy predator to simulate predation risk in wild-caught guppies from a high-predation population in Trinidad. Our results revealed that males performed proportionately more coercive mating attempts when presented with a female that had been exposed previously to a model predator compared to when males were paired with non-exposed females. Total mating activity (combined rates of courtship and forced mating attempts) did not differ significantly among the two treatment groups, indicating that overall mating activity is unaffected by predation risk. Importantly, when we subsequently presented both sexes concurrently with a predator model, total mating activity and the proportion of forced mating attempts remained unchanged in the high-risk treatment. Taken together, these results indicate that the transition from courtship to forced mating attempts under elevated predation risk is mediated by changes in female behaviour, which we suggest may favour the use of coercive mating under high predation risk.
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