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Geographic variation in female mate-copying in the species complex of a unisexual fish, Poecilia formosa

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The Amazon molly, Poecilia formosa, is a gynogenetic, all-female fish. Its mating system relies on heterospecific matings with males of closely related sexual species. In mixed populations, males mate with conspecific sexual females and heterospecific asexual females. Such matings are not isolated dyadic interactions but rather elements of a communication network, because multiple females can observe these interactions. This is the only known case of heterospecific mate-copying and, thus, a system in which the potential for mate-copying could be influenced by the presence of another species. Here we show that mate-copying is exhibited by the sexual species P. mexicana and P. latipinna, and the asexual P. formosa. Both sexual and asexual females copy each other's mate choice decisions in sympatry, but females from allopatric populations do not show heterospecific mate-copying. Males benefit from heterospecific matings with Amazon mollies because these increase their attractiveness to the conspecific sexual females. In mixed shoals, mate-copying potentially imposes costs as it increases a male's attractiveness to heterospecific females. We argue that the net-effect of mate-copying is beneficial to males because the relative strength of mate-copying is lower in Amazon mollies. We hypothesize that an added benefit to males lies in the signal value of copulations.

Affiliations: 1: Universität Hamburg, Biozentrum Grindel, Hamburg, Germany, University of Texas, Section of Integrative Biology, Austin, TX 78712, USA, Current address: Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 65, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland; 2: Universität Hamburg, Biozentrum Grindel, Hamburg, Germany; 3: University of Texas, Section of Integrative Biology, Austin, TX 78712, USA; 4: Universität Hamburg, Biozentrum Grindel, Hamburg, Germany, University of Texas, Section of Integrative Biology, Austin, TX 78712, USA, Corresponding author's address: Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, 730 Van Vleet Oval, Norman, OK 73019, USA;, Email:


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