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Keywords:

  • learning;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • reproductive isolation;
  • sexual selection;
  • speciation

Abstract

Sequential mate choice strategies predict how females should alter their choosiness based on the availability of attractive males. There are many studies on sequential mate choice within species, but few have asked whether females apply these strategies to interactions between species and how these strategies may affect hybridization. We tested how previous interactions with conspecific and heterospecific males affect mate preference and sexual isolation in two threespine stickleback species (benthics and limnetics: Gasterosteus spp.). Consistent with previous work, we found that within species, stickleback females gauge male attractiveness relative to previously encountered males. If females extend these decision rules between species, we predicted that previous interactions with conspecifics should make heterospecifics less attractive, whereas interactions with heterospecifics should make conspecifics more attractive. However, females found heterospecifics less attractive after prior experience, largely independent of the species of male first encountered. Thus, sequential mate choice strategies are used within but not between species in sticklebacks. Further, learning from prior courtship interactions acts to enhance existing sexual isolation between species.