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The Role of Courtship Behavior and Size in Mate Preference in the Sex-Role-Reversed Gulf Pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli



Charlyn Partridge, Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada.



In sex-role-reversed species, sexual selection acts more strongly on females than on males, a situation that can result in the evolution of secondary sexual traits in females and strong mating preferences in males. While some research exploring mating preferences in sex-role-reversed species has been conducted, overall, this topic remains relatively unexplored. The Gulf pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli, is a highly polyandrous pipefish species. Sexual selection is significantly stronger in females than in males, which has led to the evolution of both morphological and behavioral female secondary sexual traits. However, because males gestate the offspring in specialized pouches and make a substantial investment in embryos during development, females may also benefit from being choosy. The goal of this study was to examine both male and female mating preferences in this species. We found that male mating preference was significantly associated with female courtship behavior. Larger females were also able to maintain these behaviors for longer intervals than smaller females. No evidence of female mating preference in regard to male size was observed but the data suggest that male behaviors may be providing positive reinforcement to courting females. This research provides further insight into how mate preferences vary among sex-role-reversed species.