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Male Sexual Preference for Female Swimming Activity in the Guppy (Poecilia reticulata)

Bierbach, David; Wenchel, Ronja; Gehrig, Stefan; Wersing, Serafina; O’Connor, Olivia L.; Krause, Jens


Mate choice that is based on behavioural traits is a common feature in the animal kingdom. Using the Trinidadian guppy, a species with mutual mate choice, we investigated whether males use female swimming activity—a behavioural trait known to differ consistently among individuals in many species—as a trait relevant for their mate choice. In the first experiment, we assessed male and female activity in an open field test alone (two repeated measures) and afterwards in heterosexual pairs (two repeated measures). In these pairs, we simultaneously assessed males’ mating efforts by counting the number of sexual behaviours (courtship displays and copulations). Male and female guppies showed consistent individual differences in their swimming activity when tested both alone and in a pair, and these differences were maintained across both test situations. When controlling for male swimming behaviour and both male and female body size, males performed more courtship displays towards females with higher swimming activity. In a second experiment, we tested for a directional male preference for swimming activity by presenting males video animations of low- and high-active females in a dichotomous choice test. In congruence with experiment 1, we found males to spend significantly more time in association with the high-active female stimulus. Both experiments thus point towards a directional male preference for higher activity levels in females. We discuss the adaptive significance of this preference as activity patterns might indicate individual female quality, health or reproductive state while, mechanistically, females that are more active might be more detectable to males as well.