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Keywords:

  • Cichlid;
  • compositional data;
  • male preference;
  • mate choice;
  • polymorphism;
  • sex ratio

Sexual selection theory largely rests on the assumption that populations contain individual variation in mating preferences and that individuals are consistent in their preferences. However, there are few empirical studies of within-population variation and even fewer have examined individual male mating preferences. Here, we studied a color polymorphic population of the Lake Victoria cichlid fish Neochromis omnicaeruleus, a species in which color morphs are associated with different sex-determining factors. Wild-caught males were tested in three-way choice trials with multiple combinations of different females belonging to the three color morphs. Compositional log-ratio techniques were applied to analyze individual male mating preferences. Large individual variation in consistency, strength, and direction of male mating preferences for female color morphs was found and hierarchical clustering of the compositional data revealed the presence of four distinct preference groups corresponding to the three color morphs in addition to a no-preference class. Consistency of individual male mating preferences was higher in males with strongest preferences. We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying polymorphism in mating preferences.