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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mate choice decision rules: Trait synergisms and preference shifts.

  • Author(s): Burley, Nancy Tyler
  • Hamedani, Elnaz
  • Symanski, Cole
  • et al.

Published Web Location Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

An important and understudied question in sexual selection is how females evaluate information from multiple secondary sexual traits (SSTs), particularly when expression of traits is phenotypically uncorrelated. We performed mate choice experiments on zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis Gould) to evaluate two hypotheses: preference shifts (obstacles to choice using one trait increase chooser reliance on others) and trait synergisms (choice based on the sum/product of two or more independently varying traits). The first experiment, which employed males raised on diets that impact SST expression, supported the trait synergism hypothesis: overall, male pairing success was best predicted by synergisms involving beak color and cheek patch size. Results did not support the preference shift hypothesis. Results of a follow-up experiment that included males reared on a single diet, and in which male beak color and cheek patch size were manipulated, were also consistent with the trait synergism hypothesis. Results have implications for understanding the long-term persistence of multiple SSTs in populations and for the measurement of repeatability and heritability of mate preferences.

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