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Keywords:

  • Bicyclus anynana;
  • mate choice;
  • seasonal polyphenism;
  • sexual dimorphism;
  • sexual imprinting

Fixed, genetically determined, mate preferences for species whose adult phenotype varies with rearing environment may be maladaptive, as the phenotype that is most fit in the parental environment may be absent in the offspring environment. Mate preference in species with polyphenisms (environmentally dependent alternative phenotypes) should therefore either not focus on polyphenic traits, be polyphenic themselves, or learned each generation. Here, we test these alternative hypotheses by first describing a female-limited seasonal polyphenism in a sexually dimorphic trait in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana, dorsal hindwing spot number (DHSN), and then testing whether male and female mate preferences for this trait exist, and whether they are seasonally polyphenic, or learned. Neither naïve males nor naïve females in either seasonal form exhibited mating preferences for DHSN. However, males, but not females, noticed DHSN variation and learned mate preferences for DHSN. These results suggest that individuals may accommodate environmentally dependent variation in morphological traits via learned mate preferences in each generation, and that learned mate preference plasticity can be sexually dimorphic.