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Abstract

Male sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna) can be sexually parasitized by closely related, unisexual, gynogenetic Amazon mollies (Poecilia formosa). This study examined possible cues used by male P. latipinna to distinguish between conspecific females and sympatric, heterospecific P. formosa. Digital photos were used to create models to test male P. latipinna preference for model female P. latipinna and P. formosa with a full suite of traits and altered models of P. latipinna and P. formosa. Male P. latipinna significantly preferred models of either species over no stimulus, demonstrating that models elicit a male response. Males also significantly preferred female P. latipinna models over P. formosa models. We also examined species recognition by female sailfin mollies using the same models, and found that female sailfin mollies significantly preferred to associate with female P. latipinna over P. formosa. These results taken together suggest that the use of fish models yield results similar to those studies using live stimuli. Male preference was then tested for unaltered vs. altered models in the following combinations: (i) P. formosa vs. P. formosa with a female P. latipinna fin; (ii) P. formosa vs. P. formosa with a female P. latipinna lateral spot pattern; (iii) P. formosa vs. P. latipinna with a P. formosa fin and their spotless lateral pattern. Males did not significantly prefer models with any isolated traits over the unaltered P. formosa models. Thus, males may be using traits other than the ones isolated for species recognition or males may be using a suite of multiple traits to recognize conspecific females.