Sexual selection should favour females that can assess the functional fertility of available sexual partners and avoid mating with recently mated, sperm-depleted males. Our current understanding of the sensory mechanism(s) underlying female assessment of males based on their functional fertility and avoidance of sperm-depleted males is incomplete. Female Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are known to avoid mating with males that they had previously observed mating with other females. Here, we investigated experimentally the proximate sensory cues that they use to distinguish between paired size- and colour-matched mated and unmated males in the absence of visual public information on their prior mating histories. When only water-borne chemical cues from the males were available, females avoided the previously mated male and preferred the unmated one, but they chose randomly when only male visual cues (and no chemical cues) were available. They also preferred unmated over mated males when freely swimming with them in a more sensorially complex environment with multiple male cues (i.e., visual, chemical and mechanical cues) concurrently available. Females exhibited no preference for either stimulus males when both were unmated, irrespectively of the sensory environment. These novel results suggest that, in the absence of prior visual public information on the recent mating histories of males, female guppies use olfactory cues putatively emitted by mated males to avoid mating with them. The source and nature of the implicated olfactory cues and the fitness benefits gained by female guppies in sexually preferring males that have not recently mated remain unknown and warrant further research.

Additional Metadata
Keywords functional fertility, guppy, mate choice, mating history, olfactory cues, sexual selection
Persistent URL
Journal Ethology
Scarponi, V. (Valentina), & Godin, J.-G.J. (2018). Female assessment of male functional fertility during mate choice in a promiscuous fish. Ethology, 124(3), 196–208. doi:10.1111/eth.12723