Association patterns of sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna): alternative hypotheses
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Individuals may associate with each other due to a variety of selective forces, such as intra- and intersexual selection, and conspecific recognition. Previous studies have concluded that mate choice governs association behavior in polygynous species of fish. I examined whether mate choice underlies the preference for larger individuals by examining preference for association (time spent in proximity to a fish) not only between opposite-sex individuals but also between same-sex individuals of the live-bearing sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna). Males and females from three size classes were tested with a large and a small object fish of the same and opposite sex. Females preferred to associate with larger over smaller males. Males also preferred to associate with larger over smaller females, as expected. The same female and male test fish also preferred to associate with larger over smaller fish of the same sex. Moreover, females demonstrated no significant difference in their strength of preference (large–small) when offered males or females. The same held true for males. When males and females were subsequently tested with one large male and one large female, females tended to prefer large males while males showed no significant preference for association based on sex. In another experiment, females were tested with a large female and a small male, and significantly preferred the former. These findings suggest that association patterns may have arisen under a variety of conditions, such as predation pressures, shoaling behavior, and associative preference behavior. The assumption that association behavior is a uniformly sufficient predictor of mate choice in fish needs to be re-examined for P. latipinna and other species.
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