Female lizards discriminate between potential reproductive partners using multiple male traits when territory cues are absent
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Female choice can powerfully influence the evolution of male phenotypes. In territorial species, it is challenging to determine the targets of female choice because male traits (e.g., behavior and morphology) are often correlated with territory. We sought to elucidate if and how females specifically evaluate male traits in a territorial species. In this study, we presented female fence lizards, Sceloporus undulatus, with two potential mates to examine mate choice in the absence of territory cues. Females associated more with males possessing better body condition, longer heads, and wider throat badges, and that performed more shudder behavior, which females responded to by approaching shuddering males and performing push-ups. A post hoc decision tree analysis suggests that the strongest predictor of female association was an overall quality index that incorporates all of these traits, rather than individual traits. Male snout–vent length, head width, abdominal badge width, and push-up behavior did not affect female association. Further research on why these traits, which are known to correlate with fitness, do not appear to be used by females when selecting mates would improve our understanding of the evolution of male traits. Our study reveals that females of this territorial species possess the ability to use multiple male traits interactively to make fitness-relevant mate choice decisions in the absence of direct territory cues.
KeywordsFemale choice Male trait Multiple cues Sceloporus undulatus Sexual selection Territory
We thank M. Morgan for assisting with data collection, T. Robbins for his statistical advice for the decision tree analysis, L. Nell and J. Abraham for helping to build the experimental arena and caring for study animals, and B. Chitterling, an anonymous reviewer, and the Associate Editor for valuable comments on this manuscript. L.S. is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
The research presented here adhered to the legal requirements of the USA and the Institutional Guidelines of Penn State University (IACUC permit numbers 27696 and 31400). Lizards were captured under permits from the State of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (permit number 4454) and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (permit number 022520081).
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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