Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 12, pp 1757–1763 | Cite as

Plasticity in male courtship behaviour as a function of light intensity in guppies

  • Ben B. ChapmanEmail author
  • Lesley J. Morrell
  • Jens Krause
Original Paper


The environment is profoundly important in shaping many aspects of animal phenotype, including courtship and mating behaviours. Courtship displays rely upon the transmission of visual information from the signaller to the receiver, which means they are likely to be less effective in visually poor conditions such as at low light or in turbid ecosystems. One might therefore predict that in visually poor environments it would be beneficial for individuals to plastically adjust their mating behaviour to maximise mating success. Here, we investigate the impact of the developmental and current visual environment (light intensity) upon male mating behaviour in the Trinidadian guppy Poecilia reticulata. Male guppies have two different mating tactics: They can court females with a visual sigmoid display or attempt to circumvent female choice by attempting a non-consensual copulation (gonapodium thrust). We reared juvenile guppies in low light and relatively high light intensities for 5 months before observing individual males for mating behaviour in both light conditions. We found that the current light environment is important in determining the frequency of both sigmoidal courtship displays and non-consensual copulation attempts. Males increase the frequency of sigmoidal displays at relatively high light and increase non-consensual mating attempts at low light, suggesting that males compensate for poor visual conditions via an adjustment in tactics. We also find a significant correlation in courtship effort between the different light environments, suggesting that there is individual consistency across time and context for this trait. Developmental environment was less important. However, we found that fish reared at lower light intensities continued to employ sigmoidal displays despite the poor current visual environment. Our data show that male mating behaviour is phenotypically plastic in response to recent light environment. This may have implications for understanding how animals cope with anthropogenic environmental change.


Courtship display Early experience Light intensity Mating behaviour Phenotypic plasticity 



Thanks to Jolyon Faria for useful discussions, general assistance and tape labelling; to Jon Ward for assistance with measuring light intensity; and to Jon Ward, David Reznick and Mark Butler for shedding light upon light intensity in natural populations of guppies. Neil Metcalfe and Keith Hamer read through a nascent form of this paper and provided very helpful thoughts, advice and encouragement. Finally, we also thank and acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers of an earlier draft of this manuscript and the associate editor for their insightful comments. This work was funded by a scholarship from the University of Leeds to BBC.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben B. Chapman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lesley J. Morrell
    • 1
  • Jens Krause
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Integrative & Comparative BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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