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Form and Function of Habituation and Sensitization of Male Courtship in the Three-Spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus Aculeatus L.)

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A model female stickleback presented to a territorial male with a nest usually results in the male courting the model with a series of zigzag movements followed by a leading to the nest entrance. Following such a display, a live gravid female might follow, enter the nest, spawn and leave permitting the male to fertilize the eggs. Frequently, however, the female is not ready to spawn, and the male continues to court until, at some point, he ceases courting that female at least for a short period of time and directs his attention to another female. We propose that mechanisms involved in the modulation of this behavior may include habituation and sensitization in a way that is analogous to that apparently involved in territorial aggression and predation. This study demonstrates that habituation and sensitization do influence the behavioral decrement and reinstatement respectively of male courtship of a female model, and it may be that the stickleback uses habituation as one means of curtailing courtship towards unresponsive females, thus conserving energy and permitting redeployment of attention to other, possibly more responsive, females.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, USA, Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California, Davis, USA; 2: Institute of Animal Behavior and Department of Psychology, Towson University, MD, USA


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