Choosing a mate is tough stuff, made all the more complicated by a chooser’s experiences, environment, and condition. New results from BEACON suggest that mate availability (or lack thereof) and age interact to affect female mate choice and male sexual signaling.
The study consisted of two parts:
1. field surveys which determined natural, seasonal variation in mate availability in wild threespine stickleback fish, and
2. laboratory experiments which tracked both female mating decisions and male sexual signals in response to time and the sex ratio of their tanks, either male-biased or female-biased (From the female perspective, this translates to many vs. few mates available, respectively)
The researchers found that males from both sex ratio treatments were reddest late in life, although they competed most for females early in life. Females grew more responsive to courtship with time, and those experiencing a female-biased sex ratio, where mates are rare, relaxed their mating decisions to become less choosy late in life.
Such flexibility in behavior could buffer populations from the potentially negative effects of environmental change, allowing for reproduction even when preferred mates are rare and time is short.
Read more: Tinghitella, R. M., Weigel, E., Head, M., & Boughman, J.W. (2013). Flexible mate choice when mates are rare and time is short. Ecology and Evolution. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.666/abstract
[This is reposted entry from my work with the BEACONBuzz]