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Behav Processes. 2000 Oct 5;51(1-3):111-134.

The role of mating preferences in shaping interspecific divergence in mating signals in vertebrates.

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Idaho State University, 83209-8007, Pocatello, ID, USA


Vertebrates represent one of the best-studied groups in terms of the role that mating preferences have played in the evolution of exaggerated secondary sexual characters and mating behaviours within species. Vertebrate species however, also exhibit enormous interspecific diversity in features of mating signals that has potentially led to reproductive isolation and speciation in many groups. The role that sexual selection has played in interspecific divergence in mating signals has been less fully explored. This review summarizes our current knowledge of how mating preferences within species have shaped interspecific divergence in mate recognition signals among the major vertebrate groups. Certain signal modalities appear to characterize mating signal diversification among different vertebrate taxa. Acoustic signals play an important role in mating decisions in anuran amphibians and birds. Here, different properties of the signal may convey information regarding individual, neighbor and species recognition. Mating preferences for particular features of the acoustic signal have led to interspecific divergence in calls and songs. Divergence in morphological traits such as colouration or ornamentation appears to be important in interspecific diversity in certain groups of fishes and birds. Pheromonal signals serve as the primary basis for species-specific mating cues in many salamander species, most mammals and even some fishes. The evolution of interspecific divergence in elaborate courtship displays may have played an important role in speciation of lizards, and particular groups of fishes, salamanders, birds and mammals. While much research has focused on the importance of mating preferences in shaping the evolution of these types of mating signals within species, the link between intraspecific preferences and interspecific divergence and speciation remains to be more fully tested. Future studies should focus on identifying how variation in mating preferences within a species shapes interspecific diversity in features of mating signals in order to better understand how sexual selection may have led to speciation in vertebrates.

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