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Abstract

Even though females are usually more selective in choosing their mates, males are also capable of exercising mate choice. Despite the large body of evidence on the individual features preferred in sexual selection, little attention has been devoted to the first stage of male–female interaction. As poeciliid fish are known to be social, in the wild, initially mate choice may concern a preliminary selection among shoals. Only after this primary choice, males may subsequently direct their attention to a specific mate. We observed spontaneous preference of male mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) when choosing between groups differing in size and sex ratio. In partial agreement with our predictions, males preferred to join a group of females rather than an isolated one (expt 1) and the larger group when two female groups were presented (expt 2). An all-female group was preferred to a mixed-sex group (expt 3), whereas no preference was observed when the two mixed-sex groups differed in the number of males (expt 4) or in the size of the males (expt 5). These results suggest that male mosquitofish are capable of discriminating among different quantities of individuals within a group and use such information to select among groups in order to optimize the likelihood of successful matings.