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Female Preference for Male Lateral Projection Area in the Shortfin Molly, Poecilia mexicana: Evidence for a Pre-existing Bias in Sexual Selection


R. David MacLaren, Department of Biological Sciences, Kent State University – Tuscarawas, New Philadelphia, OH 44663, USA.


Sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna) males possess a large dorsal fin (sailfin) and perform an elaborate courtship display. Females prefer to associate and mate with males of greater body and sailfin size. Evidence supports a single origin for the sailfin species complex from a shortfin ancestor. Unlike sailfin species, males of the shortfin species complex are sexually monomorphic in fin size and exhibit little or no courtship behavior. In this study, we tested the pre-existing bias and lateral projection area (LPA) hypotheses for sexual selection by examining female mating preferences in the shortfin molly, P. mexicana. Specifically, we presented females with pairs of dummy males differing in: (1) dorsal fin and body size together (holding fin:body size ratio constant); (2) body size (holding dorsal fin size constant); (3) dorsal fin size (holding body size constant); and dorsal fin:body size ratio (holding total LPA constant). Females spent more time near dummies of greater body and dorsal fin size. The preference functions based on the first three sets of stimuli showed a similar pattern: the greater the LPA difference between paired dummies, the stronger the preference for the larger of the two. However, in the fourth experiment, neither fin size, body size, nor any particular dorsal fin + body size combination was preferred. These findings support the LPA hypothesis suggesting that increased LPA is more stimulating to sexually receptive females and that females consequently prefer larger males. Moreover, these data are consistent with results obtained in an identical series of experiments conducted on P. latipinna. The preference for increased male dorsal fin size/LPA by both female P. latipinna and P. mexicana supports the pre-existing bias hypothesis. Thus, a bias for increased male LPA and consequent selection for enlarged dorsal fins may have preceded the appearance of the sailfin trait within the Molliensia lineage.