Condition-dependent mate choice is thought to affect the strength and direction of sexual selection. Although there is ample evidence of this from studies that experimentally manipulate female condition, few studies to date have examined condition dependence of natural mate choice wherein females interact with a pool of available males. We examined mate assessment by free-living Pavo cristatus peafowl, focusing on 3 measures of the choosing female's condition: mass condition (scaled mass index), ectoparasite load, and white blood cell (WBC) count. Females with greater mass condition were more active on peacock leks, approaching and visiting males more often, and spending more time near the males they visited. Condition did not affect the total number of males visited or the probability that a female would visit a male that she had already approached. Peacock mating success is strongly correlated with the iridescent colors of the eyespots on their train, suggesting that color signals are a major focus of female choice. Here, we show that females in better condition (higher mass condition and lower WBC count) allocate a greater proportion of their visit time to the most iridescent males displaying on leks. Our results provide evidence of strong condition-dependent effects on female mate assessment and choice in the absence of experimentally induced stress. We suggest that condition-dependent mate choice may help maintain variation in sexually selected male color traits.

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Behavioral Ecology

Dakin, R, & Montgomerie, R. (Robert). (2014). Condition-dependent mate assessment and choice by peahens: Implications for sexual selection. Behavioral Ecology, 25(5), 1097–1104. doi:10.1093/beheco/aru087