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Anim Behav. 1999 Feb;57(2):421-426.

Cultural influences on female mate choice: an experimental test in cowbirds, Molothrus ater.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University


Previous studies of brown-headed cowbirds Molothrus ater, have shown that social learning and cultural transmission can influence courtship and mating patterns. These earlier studies did not test whether cultural background influenced mate choice in females and therefore whether culture could potentially play a role in sexual selection in this species, as has been suggested by recent theory. Here, we tested whether culture influences female mate choice in brown-headed cowbirds. Female cowbirds from a South Dakota population were housed with adult cowbirds from the same South Dakota population or with adult cowbirds from a behaviourally distinct population from Indiana. We tested the mating preferences of females of the South Dakota culture and females of the Indiana culture in sequential mate-choice trials with males, controlling for intrasexual interactions. The males were South Dakota cowbirds that had also been housed either in the South Dakota culture or in the Indiana culture. Females showed mating preferences for males from their own culture. These results suggest that mate choice in female cowbirds can be influenced by cultural background. We briefly discuss the effect that culture may have on sexual selection and on the evolution of female mating preferences.


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