Asymmetries in Mating Preferences Between Species: Female Swordtails Prefer Heterospecific Males

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Science  01 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4801, pp. 595-597
DOI: 10.1126/science.236.4801.595


In male swordtails (Xiphophorus nigrensis) there are three size classes that derive from allelic variation at the pituitary locus on the Y chromosome. Progeny analysis and preference tests suggest that females prefer to mate with larger males. In the closely related X. pygmaeus, there is no allelic variation at this locus; this species consists of males similar in size only to smaller X. nigrensis males. In addition to being smaller than most X. nigrensis males, these X.pygmaeus males also lack both the swordtail and a major component of the courtship display common in most X. nigrensis males. Usually, female X. pygmaeus prefer to mate with heterospecific males rather than conspecifics, regardless of body size and the presence of a swordtail. However, the smallest X. nigrensis males lack the same courtship component as do the X. pygmaeus males, and in this comparison female X. pygmaeus show no preference. Although sexual selection, through its action on divergence of courtship displays, has been implicated as a factor leading to speciation, in this case sexual selection could lead to the congealing of gene pools between heterospecifics.

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