Sex-specific conditional mating preferences in a cichlid fish: implications for sexual conflict
Conditional mating strategies enable individuals to modulate their mating behaviour depending on ‘individual status’ to maximise fitness. Theory predicts that variation in individual quality can lead to differences in mating preferences. However, empirical evidence is scarce particular in terms of variation in male and female strategies. Here, we experimentally investigated quality-dependent variation in mating preferences concerning reliable quality indicators in Pelvicachromis taeniatus, a colourful cichlid fish with mutual mate choice and ornamentation. Males as well as females were artificially manipulated in phenotypic quality by different feeding regimes. Ornamentation was connected to individual quality in both sexes. Males and females showed conditional mating strategies in different directions. Males showed prudent choice by preferring females of similar quality. In contrast to males, low-quality females preferred highly ornamented males, whereas high-quality females showed neither preferences for high- nor for low-quality males. The results suggest that individuals aim for specific benefits depending on individual quality. Furthermore, the conflicting conditional mating preferences of males and females might lead to sexual conflict, implicating a highly dynamical mating system that evolves even in absence of environmental changes.