Experience and mate choice in sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna)
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Learning and experience shape mate preferences in many species. My thesis investigates the role of experience on mating behavior of male and female sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna). In the first chapter I explore whether adult experience influences male sailfin molly mate preference for their sexual parasite, the Amazon molly (Poecilia formosa), and whether experience could account for reproductive character displacement (RCD) of male mate preference in this species. Sailfin males from sympatric populations show a stronger preference for conspecific females over Amazon mollies than do males from allopatric populations. I exposed males from sympatric and allopatric populations to either a sailfin female or an Amazon prior to a mating trial with an Amazon. For the allopatric population, males with recent experience with an Amazon directed fewer mating behaviors towards an Amazon during mating trials than did males with recent experience with a sailfin. Males from the sympatric population, however, performed the same amount of mating behaviors towards an Amazon regardless of experience. Thus adult experience influences mating preferences and suggests that experience may play a role in RCD in this species. In the second chapter I investigate whether a learned sensory bias could influence female mate preferences. Sensory biases that influence mate preferences can arise through selection on the sensory system in foraging and predator detection domains. I tested whether a learned preference originating outside of the mating domain, specifically a color-based food preference, can be transferred to a color-based preference for a male trait. I trained female sailfin mollies to associate either green or blue with food and then tested their preference for animated male sailfins featuring either a blue or green spot. I found that females did not prefer the male with the same color spot to which they had been conditioned. I discuss the problem of learned preference transfer and suggest directions for future research into the role of learning in sensory bias.