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Thresholds or Comparisons: Mate Choice Criteria And Sexual Selection in a Periodical Cicada, Magicicada Septendecim (Hemiptera: Cicadidae)

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Many insects possess life history characteristics that make them unlikely to use the kinds of relative mate choice criteria implicit in theoretical discussions of leks; thus, many insect mating aggregations are treated differently, as 'swarms' or 'choruses.' Yet periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) seem strong candidates for participating in lek mating systems. We present a series of observations and experiments designed to reveal whether there are mating biases in periodical cicadas and whether any biases are most consistent with flexible ('best-of-N 'choice) or fixed (threshold choice) mating criteria. We rule out postcopulatory choice by demonstrating that most females mate once, after which they become sexually unreceptive. In our study, patterns of mating success among actively chorusing males are indistinguishable from random mating, and we uncover no consistent differences between unmated and mated males on the basis of size and song pitch, two criteria that have been associated with Magicicada mating biases in other contexts. Because our results are most consistent with a fixed-threshold choice mechanism, we suggest that Magicicada mating aggregations do not function in a manner similar to vertebrate leks even though they fulfill Bradbury's (1981) lek criteria. Instead, features of Magicicada behavior suggesting female selectivity may arise incidentally from males' and females' unequal tendencies to mate multiply, the resulting superabundance of sexually receptive males, and the high frequency at which females are courted at the onset of mating readiness.


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