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Female house mice initially shun infected males, but do not avoid mating with them

Abstract

Female house mice (Mus musculus) show preferences for the scent of healthy versus infected males, which may function to reduce risks of disease transmission or to obtain healthy, disease-resistant mates. It is not known whether such odor preferences result in differential male reproductive success (sexual selection), and therefore, we performed mate choice experiments with wild-derived mice. Females were allowed to freely choose to mate between two males, one infected (Salmonella enterica) versus a sham control, and we conducted genetic paternity analyses on the offspring to assess male reproductive success. The males were restricted to their own cages to prevent male-male interactions and sexual coercion, and we performed the experiment in two different settings: in large-connected cages and in large enclosures. In the enclosures, we found that 86 % of females were initially more attracted to the control males (initial social preference); however, our paternity analyses detected no difference in male reproductive success in either setting. Females often mated with both males (connected cages 32 %, enclosures 44 %), which shows that females frequently mate multiply—despite differences in male health—when they can choose their mates. These results raise caveats about mate choice studies that rely on proxy measures, such as odor preferences or time spent with potential mates. On the other hand, if females are less likely to locate infected than healthy males in the wild, then such a bias could still result in nonrandom mating. We suggest several additional issues that also need to be considered before ruling out parasite-mediated mate choice.

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Acknowledgments

We thank B. Church for help during the experiments and R. Hengsberger for assistance formatting our manuscript. We are grateful to F. Goller, D. Clayton, D. Feener, and N. Hillgarth for their input and support, and we are thankful to J. Roth for kindly providing us with the Salmonella. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (IBN 9817008A000 and IBN9904609), the National Institutes of Health (GM39578), and the Austrian Science Foundation (P 24711-B21). The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

All the experiments were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and comply with the laws of the country in which they were performed. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed and all efforts were made to minimize any kind of suffering to the animals.

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Correspondence to Sarah M. Zala.

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Communicated by C. Voigt

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Zala, S.M., Bilak, A., Perkins, M. et al. Female house mice initially shun infected males, but do not avoid mating with them. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 69, 715–722 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-015-1884-2

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Keywords

  • Mus
  • Mate choice
  • Sexual selection
  • Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis
  • Infection
  • Parasite-mediated sexual selection