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Abstract

The evolution of leks may be explained by several hypotheses. The ‘female preference’ hypothesis, which states that females favour males that have aggregated, has recently gained some empirical support. Low-quality, unattractive males may, however, settle near attractive males, as predicted by the ‘hotshot’ hypothesis. We tested whether black grouse Tetrao tetrix females use auditory cues to find the preferred leks, and whether males respond to vocal display emitted on leks. We conducted a playback experiment with male vocal display (rookooing) on leks, where the visiting females and displaying males were counted. The number of males tended to increase more on playback leks. Specifically, the number of 1-year-old males was greater on playback sites than on control sites. Also, the number of females, in relation to the lek size before the start of the experiment tended to increase. In addition, we used aviary playback trials to test whether females distinguish between single-male and multi-male displays. In a choice test, females showed greater preference for the ‘multi-male’ tape. The tendency for increased male numbers on playback leks resulted from increased visits of young, mobile males which were attracted to leks that they perceived to be large. This suggests a ‘hotshot’-type mechanism in the settlement of young males. Because females also responded to the supplemented auditory advertisement, or directly to the increased number of males, the ‘female preference’ hypothesis is also supported. Females may, at least in part, base their decision of which lek to visit on auditory cues, but visual contact to males may be also needed.