Low-quality females prefer low-quality males when choosing a mate

Abstract: Mate choice studies routinely assume female preferences for indicators of high quality in males but rarely consider developmental causes of within-population variation in mating preferences. By contrast, recent mate choice models assume that costs and benefits of searching or competing for high-quality males depend on females' phenotypic quality. A prediction following from these models is that manipulation of female quality should alter her choosiness or even the direction of her mating preferences. We here provide (to our knowledge) the first example where an experimental manipulation of female quality induced a mating preference for low-quality males. Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) reared in small or large experimental broods became high- or low-quality adults, respectively. Only high-quality females preferred high-quality males' mate-advertising songs, while all low-quality females preferred low-quality males' song. Subsequent breeding trials confirmed this pattern: latency until egg laying was shortest in quality-matched pairs, indicating that quality-matched birds were accepted faster as partners. Females produced larger eggs when mated with high-quality males, regardless of their own quality, indicating consensus regarding male quality despite the expression of different choices. Our results demonstrate the importance of considering the development of mating preferences to understand their within-population variation and environmentally induced change.
Published Mar. 6, 2012 1:51 PM - Last modified Mar. 6, 2012 1:51 PM