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Female choice for large body size in the cave molly, Poecilia mexicana (Poeciliidae, Teleostei): influence of species- and sex-specific cues

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Previous studies revealed that females of a cave form of the livebearing fish Poecilia mexicana (cave molly) have maintained the ancestral visual preference for large males, but — as an adaptation to life in darkness — they have evolved the novel capability to assess male size non-visually. Here we examined the mechanisms by which non-visual mate choice for large body size occurs. Are sex- and species-specific chemical cues involved in this preference for large conspecifics? We gave focal females an opportunity to associate with a large and a small stimulus fish in simultaneous choice tests, whereby the females could perceive either multiple cues (visual plus non-visual) from the stimulus fish, solely non-visual cues in darkness, or solely visual cues. Stimulus fish were two conspecific males, conspecific females, or heterospecific females (Xiphophorus hellerii). Cave molly females showed a significant preference for large conspecific males and for large conspecific females in all treatments. When a large and a small swordtail female were presented, cave molly females showed a preference for the larger fish only when exclusively visual cues from the stimulus fish were available. The non-visual preference for large body size appears to be mediated by species- but not by sex-specific cues, suggesting that species-specific chemical cues play an important role during mate choice.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019, USA; University of Potsdam, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, Unit of Evolutionary Biology and Systematic Zoology, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25, 14476 Potsdam, Germany; 2: Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019, USA; 3: University of Hamburg, Biozentrum Grindel, Department of Behaviour, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany


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