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The Allure of the Distinctive: Reduced Sexual Responsiveness of Female Guppies to ‘Redundant’ Male Colour Patterns


Anne E. Houde, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL 60045, USA.


Frequency-dependent mating behaviour has the potential to maintain genetic variation in characteristics of organisms. The colour patterns of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) provide an example of one of the most extreme genetically based polymorphisms known in nature, for which frequency-dependent mate choice could be a mechanism. Numerous studies have shown that female guppies base mating preferences on male colour patterns and there is evidence that females prefer to mate with males displaying novel or unfamiliar colour patterns. This preference could lead to frequency-dependent mating success in males. Nevertheless, the possibility that female sexual responsiveness itself may depend on the frequency of male types has not been tested systematically in guppies or any other species. This study examined the sexual responses of female guppies in experimental groups consisting of two males with similar (redundant) and two males with different (unique) colour patterns. We found that female guppies were much more likely to respond sexually to the displays of unique males than to those of redundant males. Further, there was no effect of orange colouration on female responsiveness as has been documented for this population in several previous studies, thus, discrimination against redundant male types appears to have overridden directional selection based on colour pattern characteristics. This discrimination against redundant male types could in turn lead to frequency-dependent mating success in males and maintenance of colour pattern polymorphism.