Meeting Abstract

53.2  Thursday, Jan. 5  Female preferences are influenced by early experience and male vocal performance MOSELEY, D.L.; University of Massachusetts Amherst

Female mating preferences are a crucial component of sexual selection, yet we have poor knowledge of how female preferences develop. Specifically the extent to which experience during development informs mate choice is largely unstudied. Multiple factors may shape mate choice including experiential learning, social copying, and a sexually selected bias for certain male traits such as the performance level of displays. For bird species in which males learn their songs, it is likely that early exposure to song may also influence females' preferences later in life. I address this question in the swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), using a new method to elicit preferences from lab-raised birds. Adult, wild-caught females of this species are known to prefer songs of relatively high-performance, i.e. songs that are physically difficult to produce. In 2009, I hand-raised females with tutor songs of normal-performance levels. As further training in their first spring, I presented females with these songs again, but this time coupled with a video of an adult female responding with a copulation solicitation display (CSD). I then used the CSD assay to test female preferences for songs they had experienced during ontogeny against these same songs altered to higher and lower performance levels. Females gave significantly fewer CSDs to low-performance songs than to the trained (normal-performance) songs. Females responded with the most CSDs to trained songs overall, but this value was not significantly different in a pairwise comparison to the high-performance songs, which was intermediate. A greater response to trained songs supports the hypothesis of a strong influence of early experience, but a preference for high-performance songs by some females cannot be ruled out. It appears that both experiential learning and a bias for high-performance guide female preference development.