Female sensory bias may allow honest chemical signaling by male Iberian rock lizards
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Some mate choice theories propose that only male signals that are honest and condition-dependent can be stable, while another hypothesis states that males evolve signals that exploit the sensory system of females. However, sensory traps might evolve into honest signals if they are differentially costly for males. We tested whether a pre-existing sensory bias for food chemicals explained chemosensory preferences of female Iberian rock lizards for male scents. We manipulated hunger levels of females and found that food-deprived females had increased chemosensory responses to chemical stimuli from both invertebrate prey and femoral secretions of males, but not to control water. Further tests suggested that cholesta-5,7-dien-3-ol (provitamin D3), a lipid found in both prey and males’ scent, may be one of the chemicals eliciting these responses. Moreover, hungry females spent more time on scent marks of males that had experimentally increased cholesta-5,7-dien-3-ol than on scent marks of males alone, whereas for control females this effect was not significant. We suggest that preexisting sensory bias for essential nutrients (i.e., provitamin D) may be the origin of similar female responses to male chemicals. However, previous studies have suggested that the allocation of these chemicals to ornaments is costly and only high quality males can afford it. Therefore, preexisting sensory bias for essential nutrients may further allow the evolution and maintenance of honest sexual displays.