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Competition for Mates in the Mole Salamander, Ambystoma Talpoideum: Tactics That May Maximize Male Mating Success

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The relatively brief mating periods that are typical of mole salamanders (Amphibia: Caudata: Ambystomatidae) have surely selected for males that are efficient in locating and mating with females in the presence of high densities of competitors. We analyzed quantitatively the competitive mating tactics of the mole salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum, in two laboratory studies. First, we observed competitive interactions in encounters staged between two males and a single female. Such interactions were frequent, with males scrambling to interrupt one another's courtship efforts in an apparent attempt to 'steal' inseminations (and, we assume, fertilizations). The competitive behaviour patterns exhibited by male A. talpoideum appear typical of many other ambystomatid salamanders. We then conducted an experiment to determine the influence of a male-biased operational sex ratio on male mating effort (comparing the performance of target males placed with females alone and in the presence of three potential rivals). Contrary to our expectation, target males decreased their mating effort when density was high and the operational sex ratio was male-biased; many simply abandoned any attempt to court and mate. We hypothesize that decreased male mating effort under a currently male-biased operational sex ratio will be favoured if there exist alternative opportunities for relatively competition-free encounters with females. We suggest a method of testing this hypothesis using comparative data.

Affiliations: 1: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802, USA, Department of Zoology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA;, Email:; 2: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802, USA, Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA;, Email:


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