Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

Female brain size affects the assessment of male attractiveness during mate choice

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Science Advances  22 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601990
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601990

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Abstract

Mate choice decisions are central in sexual selection theory aimed to understand how sexual traits evolve and their role in evolutionary diversification. We test the hypothesis that brain size and cognitive ability are important for accurate assessment of partner quality and that variation in brain size and cognitive ability underlies variation in mate choice. We compared sexual preference in guppy female lines selected for divergence in relative brain size, which we have previously shown to have substantial differences in cognitive ability. In a dichotomous choice test, large-brained and wild-type females showed strong preference for males with color traits that predict attractiveness in this species. In contrast, small-brained females showed no preference for males with these traits. In-depth analysis of optomotor response to color cues and gene expression of key opsins in the eye revealed that the observed differences were not due to differences in visual perception of color, indicating that differences in the ability to process indicators of attractiveness are responsible. We thus provide the first experimental support that individual variation in brain size affects mate choice decisions and conclude that differences in cognitive ability may be an important underlying mechanism behind variation in female mate choice.

Keywords
  • brain size
  • female choice
  • Sexual selection
  • guppies
  • Poecilia reticulata
  • rational choice
  • cognitive ability
  • maintenance of variation

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