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Female mate choice for paternal care behaviour in African striped mice Rhabdomys pumilio: the role of experience

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Paternal care is a behavioural characteristic that can be selected for by females. By preferentially mating with 'good' fathers, females may directly increase their own reproductive success and may indirectly increase the prevalence of this trait in their sons. We investigated female mate choice in naturally paternal desert-dwelling African striped mice Rhabdomys pumilio. In two-way choice tests, we presented females with olfactory cues from males differing in levels of paternal care quality, paternal care experience, or mating experience. We predicted that females would prefer: (i) males showing higher levels of care; (ii) paternally experienced over paternally naïve males; and (iii) sexually experienced over sexually naïve males. Females did not distinguish between males of differing paternal care quality or paternal care experience, but maternally experienced females showed a preference for sexually experienced over sexually naïve males. Females may prefer sexually experienced males because these males are able to defend territories for breeding. We conclude that paternal care is selectively advantageous because of its apparent fitness benefits. Nonetheless, our study shows that paternal care has evolved independently of female choice in striped mice, since females did not choose between males of differing paternal care abilities.

Affiliations: 1: School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa; 2: School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa;, Email: Neville.Pillay@wits.ac.za

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