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Degree of male ornamentation affects female preference for conspecific versus heterospecific males

S. A. Collins, S. T. Luddem


Several studies have shown female preference for conspecific males with the attached artificial ornaments of more elaborate heterospecifics. However, preference for heterospecifics under natural conditions is relatively rare. We tested what factors affect behavioural mechanisms of species isolation using three species of estrildid finch (genus Uraeginthus) that occur in both sympatry and allopatry. These finches differ in degree of sexual dimorphism; male ornamentation; behavioural and morphological similarity; and phylogenetic distance. Paired mate–choice trials were used in which females were presented with a conspecific and heterospecific male to test which of the above between–species differences best predicted the degree of premating isolation. The three species differed in the degree of species–specific mate preference shown. Females from the brighter two species discriminated against dull males, independently of sympatry–allopatry, similarity and phylogenetic distance. Females from the dull species reacted to conspecific males and brighter heterospecific males equally strongly, independently of similarity and phylogenetic distance. In contrast to previous studies, an equal preference for heterospecific and conspecific males was found under natural conditions. It is suggested that differences between closely related species in male ornamentation affect the likelihood that premating isolation will occur due to the fact that sexual selection tends to drive preferences for exaggerated ornamentation.

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