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Am Nat. 2006 Jan;167(1):136-40. Epub 2005 Nov 7.

Female disdain for swords in a swordtail fish.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Boston University and Boston University Marine Program, Boston, Massachusetts 02215,USA.


Studies of mate choice evolution tend to focus on how female mating preferences are acquired and how they select for greater elaboration of male traits. By contrast, far less is known about how female preferences might be lost or reversed. In swordtail fish Xiphophorus, female preference for the sword ornament is an ancestral trait. Xiphophorus birchmanni, however, is one species that has secondarily lost the sword. Using synthetic animation playback of "virtual" males, we found that female X. birchmanni preferred a swordless conspecific over a sworded heterospecific. Moreover, when offered the choice between a conspecific without a sword and one with a digitally attached sword, females preferred the former. These results suggest female preferences need not always select for elaboration of male traits, and they provide a plausible explanation for the lack of introgression of a sexual trait in a naturally occurring hybrid zone.

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