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Satellites and Transients: Ecological Constraints On Alternative Mating Tactics in Male Grasshoppers

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Alternative tactics of male mating behaviour, broadly classifiable as "dominant/ territorial" versus "subordinate/non-territorial", have now been described for numerous species. Furthermore, across diverse taxa the mating tactics of subordinate/non-territorial males often appear as one of two distinct types, satellite or transient behaviour. Despite general recognition of this dichotomy, though, little effort has been made to identify the circumstances under which one of these behaviours is adopted over the other. We compared the mating systems of two congeneric species of desert grasshoppers (genus Ligurotettix) to investigate specifically the role of resource dispersion in shaping the behaviour of subordinate males. The utility of the comparative approach derives from two basic similarities between the species: both Ligurotettix coquilletti and Ligurotettix planum feed almost exclusively on a single host plant species, and the majority of males in both species defend individual host plants to gain access to females. However, the two species are associated with host plants that are dispersed very differently; i.e., L. coquilletti encounter a small number of large plants and L. planum a large number of small ones. In L. coquilletti, subordinate males, individuals noted by their lack of success in aggression and in obtaining matings, were characterized as satellites that remained silent on host plants defended by territorial males. Subordinate males in L. planum, however, were transients that sang regularly but moved frequently among different host plants. We propose that this behavioural discrepancy results from (1) the large difference between the number of potential female encounter sites (i.e., individual host plants) available to the males of the two species and (2) the large difference between the sizes of resource patches defended by the two species, which influences the ability of dominant males to eject subordinates.

Affiliations: 1: (Hawaiian Evolutionary Biology Program, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822; 2: Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, U.S.A.


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