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Keywords:

  • amplifiers;
  • mate choice costs;
  • mate preferences;
  • multicomponent signals;
  • multiple ornaments;
  • receiver psychology;
  • sexual selection;
  • signal interaction;
  • unreliable signals;
  • viability indicators

ABSTRACT

An increasing number of studies find females to base their mate choice on several cues. Why this occurs is debated and many different hypotheses have been proposed. Here I review the hypotheses and the evidence in favour of them. At the same time I provide a new categorisation based on the adaptiveness of the preferences and the information content of the cues. A few comparative and empirical studies suggest that most multiple cues are Fisherian attractiveness cues or uninformative cues that occur alongside a viability indicator and facilitate detection, improve signal reception, or are remnants from past selection pressures. However, much evidence exists for multiple cues providing additional information and serving as multiple messages that either indicate general mate quality or enable females that differ in mate preferences to choose the most suitable male. Less evidence exists for multiple cues serving as back-up signals. The importance of receiver psychology, multiple sensory environments and signal interaction in the evolution of multiple cues and preferences has received surprisingly little attention but may be of crucial importance. Similarly, sexual conflict has been proposed to result in maladaptive preferences for manipulative cues, and in neutral preferences for threshold cues, but no reliable evidence exists so far. An important factor in the evolution of multiple preferences is the cost of using additional cues. Most theoretical work assumes that the cost of choice increases with the number of cues used, which restricts the conditions under which preferences for multiple cues are expected to evolve. I suggest that in contrast to this expectation, the use of multiple cues can reduce mate choice costs by decreasing the number of mates inspected more closely or the time and energy spent inspecting a set of mates. This may be one explanation for why multiple cues are more common than usually expected. Finally I discuss the consequences that the use of multiple cues may have for the process of sexual selection, the maintenance of genetic variation, and speciation.