In most mating systems, males and females are commonly within signalling and receiving distance of conspecifics during courtship and mating activities. Although it is well known that females who observe sexual interactions between conspecifics will use public information obtained from these interactions when making their own mating decisions, much less is known about whether males use this type of information in making mating decisions. We used the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata) to test whether males use public information to (i) copy the apparent mate choice of another male and (ii) modify their mating preference for a given female in the presence of one or two sexual rivals (potential copiers). We show that males use public information to copy the mate choice of other males and that males alter their mating preferences in response to the presence of an audience of sexual rivals, but find no evidence of a stronger audience effect when the number of sexual rivals increases. Collectively, these results indicate that males pay attention to their immediate social environment in making mating decisions and suggest that they avoid having another male copy their mate choice by weakening or even reversing their initial mating preference in the presence of eavesdropping male sexual competitors. Our findings highlight the importance of social context and public information in male mate-choice decisions and have implications for the evolution of male mating preferences and of social information use in populations.

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Department of Biology

Auld, H.L. (Heather L.), & Godin, J.-G.J. (2015). Sexual voyeurs and copiers: social copying and the audience effect on male mate choice in the guppy. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69(11), 1795–1807. doi:10.1007/s00265-015-1992-z