Evidence that sensory traps can evolve into honest signals


Conventional models1,2,3,4 explaining extreme sexual ornaments propose that these reflect male genetic quality2,3,4 or are arbitrary results of genetic linkage between female preference and the ornament1. The chase-away model5 emphasizes sexual conflict: male signals attract females because they exploit receiver biases6,7,8,9. As males gain control of mating decisions, females may experience fitness costs through suboptimal mating rates or post-copulatory exploitation. Elaboration of male signals is expected if females increase their response threshold to resist such exploitation. If ornaments target otherwise adaptive biases such as feeding responses8,9,10, selection on females might eventually separate sexual and non-sexual responses to the signal. Here we show that the terminal yellow band (TYB) of several Goodeinae species evokes both feeding and sexual responses; sexual responsiveness phylogenetically pre-dates the expression of the TYB in males and is comparable across taxa, yet feeding responsiveness decreases in species with more elaborated TYBs. Displaying a TYB is costly, and thus provides an example where a trait arose as a sensory trap but has evolved into an honest signal.

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Figure 1: Tail terminal yellow band in Goodeinae.
Figure 2: Female preference for males with elaborate TYBs.
Figure 3: Feeding responsiveness to tails with (+) and without a TYB (-).
Figure 4: Female responsiveness and male ornament elaboration.


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We Thank the Lunáticos behaviour discussion group for constructive discussion throughout, and M. Ritchie, J. Graves and H. Kokko for useful comments on previous versions of the manuscript. A. Gaona and M. Molina helped with some of the behavioural records, and E. Ávila Luna provided logistical aid with fish husbandry and data collection. This project was partly supported with a grant from CONACyT to C.M.G. and is based on E.R.'s BSc thesis (Biology), which was supervised by C.M.G.

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Correspondence to Constantino Macías Garcia.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure S1

The left column shows the spectral reflectance of the sub-terminal tail band of males and females of each species. In the central column are the spectra of the terminal band and the last column shows the difference between the spectra in the first two columns. (PDF 241 kb)

Supplementary Figure S2

This file is an expanded version of Figure 2 from the main document. This includes one variable (frequency of visits to males with contrasting TYB conspicuousness) not included in Figure 2. (PDF 14 kb)

Supplementary Figure S3

This file is an expanded version of Figure 3 from the main document. This includes one variable (frequency of visits to tails with [ ] or without [ ] a TYB) that is not included in Figure 3. (PDF 52 kb)

Supplementary Figure S4

This shows the regression of rate of mass change on time in the experiment. This demonstrates that regenerating lost tail tissue is costly. The statistics of the regression analysis and its significance are provided in the main text. (PDF 14 kb)

Supplementary Figure S5

Supplementary Figure S5 shows four panels from a video sequence of male C. audax biting the tail of a fish (X. variata) showing a TYB while ignoring a tail lacking a TYB. Individual X. variata are hold in cages as described in Methods. (PDF 27 kb)

Supplementary Figure legends

Legends to accompany the above Supplementary Figures. (DOC 23 kb)

Supplementary Tables S1 and S2

This file contains Supplementary Table S1, which presents the ANOVA tables of all the tests (18) conducted to assess female sexual responsiveness for males with contrasting TYB. Supplementary Table S2 presents a full account of the results and statistics of the exposure of X. variata to elaborated TYB from heterospecific fish to test for feeding responses. The results are mentioned in the main text but expanded on here. (DOC 224 kb)

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Garcia, C., Ramirez, E. Evidence that sensory traps can evolve into honest signals. Nature 434, 501–505 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03363

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