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Abstract

Although chemosignals are largely used in sexual communication in urodeles, olfactometer studies in newts provided contrasting results about the sex specificity of female behavioural responses. Because long-range sexual advertisement is believed to be costly, some species might restrain this activity to close interactions with conspecifics. We tested chemical-mediated sexual attraction in female palmate newt (Triturus helveticus) by measuring the attraction to male and female odours in a linear water olfactometer. Unexpectedly, females were attracted towards conspecifics regardless of sex. They did not show attraction towards Limnaea stagnalis, a common sympatric aquatic gastropod. These results do not support the use of long-range male sexual signalling in the palmate newt. Instead, conspecific attraction is likely to promote aggregation of males and females in breeding ponds. Observations in the field and in the laboratory tend to support the aggregative behaviour of this species. We discuss the possible function of conspecific attraction in this context. Heading towards any conspecific would increase the probability of finding potential mates. Chemical cues do not need to be sex-specific at that stage so that long-range sexual advertisement might be unnecessary. This work emphasizes the need for studies investigating the evolutionary relationships between sexual signalling systems and population-distribution patterns.