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Female cognitive performance and mass are correlated with different aspects of mate choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)


A female’s cognitive ability may influence her mate preferences through various mechanisms. These mechanisms include the direct effect of cognitive ability on the information-processing skills used during mate choice, and the indirect effect of cognitive ability on quality when females mate assortatively. Here, we examined whether the ability to learn a novel foraging task, a cognitive skill which has been associated with reproductive success in other capacities, was correlated with song preferences in female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Female preferences were measured in an operant testing chamber where hops on a perch triggered song playback. Females were given the choice of (1) conspecific vs. heterospecific song and (2) high-quality male vs. low-quality male conspecific song. We found that female performance on the novel foraging task was positively correlated with preference for conspecific song, but not with preference for high-quality male song. Instead, female mass was positively correlated with preference for high-quality male song, potentially signifying that female mass is a stronger predictor of female quality in assortative mating than female cognitive performance. Female mass and cognitive performance were unrelated. Our results suggest that the particular traits of a female that affect conspecific preference do not necessarily affect preference for high-quality males.

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We thank K. Micotto and M. Daoud for contributing to data collection. We thank J. Danner for Rufous-collared sparrow recordings. We thank S. Lipshutz, M. Berlow, C. Coomes, and M. Blum for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


This work was supported by the Tulane Neuroscience Program (to CH) and the National Science Foundation (IOS-1354756 to EPD).

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Correspondence to C. Howell.

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All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Tulane Animal Care and Use Committee, Protocol 0427R.

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Howell, C., Anderson, R. & Derryberry, E.P. Female cognitive performance and mass are correlated with different aspects of mate choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Anim Cogn 22, 1085–1094 (2019).

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