Letters to Nature

Nature 428, 742-745 (15 April 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02419; Received 21 November 2003; Accepted 11 February 2004

Variable female preferences drive complex male displays

Seth W. Coleman1, Gail L. Patricelli1,3 & Gerald Borgia1,2

  1. Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics Program, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
  2. Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
  3. Present address: Macaulay Library, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA

Correspondence to: Gail L. Patricelli1,3 Email: Coleman@umd.edu

Complexity in male sexual displays is widely appreciated1 but diversity in female mate choice has received little attention. Males of many species have sexual displays composed of multiple display traits, and females are thought to use these different traits in mate choice1. Models of multiple display trait evolution suggest that these traits provide females with different kinds of information in different stages of the mate choice process2, or function as redundant signals to improve the accuracy of mate assessment3, 4. We suggest that complex male displays might also arise because of variation in female preferences for particular male display traits. The causes of female preference variation have received little attention5, 6, 7, and the role of preference variation in shaping complex male displays is unclear. Here we show that in satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) female mate choice is a multistage process, where females of different ages use different male display traits in successive stages. Age- and stage-specific female preferences may contribute to explaining the widespread occurrence of multifaceted male displays.

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