The effect of male coloration on female mate choice in closely related Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis nyererei complex)


We studied the effect of male coloration on interspecific female mate choice in two closely related species of haplochromine cichlids from Lake Victoria. The species differ primarily in male coloration. Males of one species are red, those of the other are blue. We recorded the behavioral responses of females to males of both species in paired male trials under white light and under monochromatic light, under which the interspecific differences in coloration were masked. Females of both species exhibited species-assortative mate choice when colour differences were visible, but chose non-assortatively when colour differences were masked by light conditions. Neither male behaviour nor overall female response frequencies differed between light treatments. That female preferences could be altered by manipulating the perceived colour pattern implies that the colour itself is used in interspecific mate choice, rather than other characters. Hence, male coloration in haplochromine cichlids does underlie sexual selection by direct mate choice, involving the capacity for individual assessment of potential mates by the female. Females of both species responded more frequently to blue males under monochromatic light. Blue males were larger and displayed more than red males. This implies a hierarchy of choice criteria. Females may use male display rates, size, or both when colour is unavailable. Where available, colour has gained dominance over other criteria. This may explain rapid speciation by sexual selection on male coloration, as proposed in a recent mathematical model.

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Received: 11 April 1997 / Accepted after revision: 27 July 1997

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Seehausen, O., van Alphen, J. The effect of male coloration on female mate choice in closely related Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis nyererei complex). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 42, 1–8 (1998).

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  • Key words Cichlids
  • Lake Victoria
  • Mate choice
  • Sexual selection
  • Speciation