A novel method to estimate the spatial scale of mate choice in the wild
Mate choice is a key life history trait and has been widely examined across animal taxa, yet the spatial scale at which animals exercise this choice has rarely been examined. Here we propose a novel method to estimate the spatial scale of mate choice in situ based on a recently developed experimental approach to evaluate, in an unbiased fashion, assortative mating in the wild as a proxy to mate choice. Using mating pairs and the surrounding individuals which were not mating at a particular scale (distance from the mating pair), we correct assortative mating for the known scale-of-choice effect bias due to microgeographical heterogeneity. Appling a linear regression of assortative mating for different scales of correction allows the identification of changes in the scale of choice. In both species, the maximum mate choice │0.35│ occurs at the mating pair position and decreases about 0.35% per cm, which was likely due to the fact that gastropods are slow-moving organisms with limited visual ability, and their mate-searching strategy relies heavily on chemical cues which function over a short distance. The proposed new method can be used to compare species with both positive and negative assortative mating and with mate choice on different traits (e.g. size or colour). As such, we believe that this novel method can be applied to assess the scale of mate choice in other organisms due to the prevalence of assortative mating in the animal kingdom.
Mate choice is a key process in animal evolution, but little is known in relation to the spatial scale at which animals exercise this choice. In several organisms, the choice can be produced by means of visual or vocal cues that can be used by an external observer to study the phenomenon. However, in others, the tactile or olfactory cues are difficult to observe in the wild. We propose a method to detect the strength of assortative mating (as a proxy to mate choice) in the wild. Our method was tested in two snail species, showing that mate choice was exerted at the scale of a few cm, and decreased significantly up to 20 cm from the individual making a choice. The method is beneficial in that it does not require a priori knowledge about the mechanism of mate choice, as it is based on the consequence (i.e. assortative mating) rather than the cause of mate choice, and hence should be applicable to many other species.
KeywordsEchinolittorina malaccana Littorina fabalis Mating preference Assortative mating Disassortative mating Mating preference
We thank Mary Riádigos for administrative contributions.
DE performed sampling, dissection and analyses on Littorina fabalis; TPTN and JMV performed sampling, dissection and analyses on Echinolittorina malaccana; MF-M performed modelling on Echinolittorina data; JMV performed size measurements on Echinolittorina; AC-R performed modelling on Littorina; GAW performed sampling on Echinolittorina; JG performed sampling on Littorina fabalis; and ER-A performed sampling in both species, analyzed output data and wrote the first MS draft. All authors contributed substantially to revision and discussion.
This work was supported by the Xunta de Galicia (Axudas do programa de consolidación e estruturación de unidades de investigacións competitivas do SUG; ED431C 2016-037), FONDOS FEDER (‘unha maneira de facer europa’) and the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (CGL2016-75482-P). The study was also partly funded by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR Government via the General Research Fund (GRF) (grant no.: HKU 17121914 M) to G.A.W.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.
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