Letter | Published:

Mutual sexual selection in a monogamous seabird

Abstract

DARWIN1 believed that elaborate ornamental traits expressed in both sexes might be favoured by mutual sexual selection driven by both female and male mate choice. Experimental studies on birds2–5 and fish6–9 have shown that male ornaments can be favoured by female mating preferences. But the concept of mutual mate choice has remained untested experimentally, although it has been supported by recent modelling10. Here we report the results of a study of mate preferences of the crested auklet Aethla cristatella, a monogamous seabird in which both sexes are ornamented. In two experiments we recorded the sexual response of male and female auklets to realistic opposite-sex models with crest ornaments experimentally shortened and lengthened within the range of natural variation. Males responded to accentuated female models with more frequent sexual displays, as did females to accentuated male models, confirming the idea that ornaments expressed in both sexes could be favoured by mutual mating preferences.

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