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Abstract

Sexual selection theory predicts that members of the choosy sex, usually females, should employ multiple sensory systems to obtain information about potential mates. Such predictions should also apply to systems in which sexual selection acts most strongly on females (i.e. sex-role-reversed species), and males of these taxa should be the individuals employing multiple cues to assess female attractiveness. Very little work has been directed toward mate choice involving multiple sensory systems in sex-role-reversed taxa, but fishes of the family Syngnathidae (pipefishes, seahorses, and sea dragons) provide an excellent opportunity to contribute to this research enterprise. While much is known about visual communication in pipefish, the role of chemical communication has not been investigated. Using dichotomous choice tests, we found that male, but not female, Gulf pipefish attended to chemical cues of opposite sex conspecifics. Given that males distinguished sex on the basis of chemical cues, we also tested whether males could assess female body size, an important trait with respect to mate choice in pipefish, on the basis of chemical cues alone. When given the choice between chemical cues produced by large vs. small females, males exhibited no preference. Our results suggest that male pipefish can use chemical cues to distinguish between males and females but not to differentiate females of different body size.