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Variable female preferences drive complex male displays

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Photograph of a bower with experimentally augmented blue decorations in 2000.
Figure 2: Mean proportion of females that returned to experimental (filled bars) or control (open bars) males for pre-NB courtships in 1999 (a) and 2000 (b).
Figure 3: Mean proportion of females that returned to experimental (filled bars) or control (open bars) males for post-NB courtships in 1999 (a) and 2000 (b).
Figure 4: Proportion of females that mated with experimental males (filled bars) or control males (open bars) in 1999 (a) and 2000 (b).

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. S. Wilkinson, K. L. Shaw, J. A. C. Uy and T. C. Mendelson for comments on the manuscript, and M. C. Christman for statistical advice. We also thank the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, the landowners at Wallaby Creek, and the 1998–2000 field assistants. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Animal Behavior Program (USA) to G.B., and by fellowships from the Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics Program of the University of Maryland, and the N.S.F. Research Training Grant to S.W.C. and G.L.P.

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Correspondence to Gail L. Patricelli.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Reflectance spectra for the blue decorations used in the augmentation experiment. (PDF 41 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Spreadsheet containing data used in all analyses in 1999. (DOC 216 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Spreadsheet containing data used in all analyses in 2000. (DOC 244 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Effects of the decoration augmentation experiment on the mate choices of females that re-mated with mates from 1999, or switched mates between 1999 and 2000. (DOC 34 kb)

Supplementary Table 4

Test statistics for comparisons among female age classes in the proportions of females that returned for pre-NB courtships with experimental males. (DOC 44 kb)

Supplementary Table 5

Test statistics for comparisons among female age classes in the proportions of females that returned for post-NB courtships with experimental males. (DOC 44 kb)

Supplementary Table 6

Test statistics for female mating preferences for male with augmented blue bower decorations. (DOC 31 kb)

Supplementary Table 7

Test statistics for among age class comparisons of the proportions of females that chose an experimental male as a mate (DOC 26 kb)

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Coleman, S., Patricelli, G. & Borgia, G. Variable female preferences drive complex male displays. Nature 428, 742–745 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02419

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