Males often produce dynamic, repetitive courtship displays that can be demanding to perform and might advertise male quality to females. A key feature of demanding displays is that they can change in intensity: escalating as a male increases his signalling effort, but de-escalating as a signaller becomes fatigued. Here, we investigated whether female fiddler crabs, Uca mjoebergi, are sensitive to changes in male courtship wave rate. We performed playback experiments using robotic male crabs that had the same mean wave rate, but either escalated, de-escalated or remained constant. Females demonstrated a strong preference for escalating robots, but showed mixed responses to robots that de-escalated (‘fast’ to ‘slow’) compared to those that waved at a constant ‘medium’ rate. These findings demonstrate that females can discern changes in male display rate, and prefer males that escalate, but that females are also sensitive to past display rates indicative of prior vigour
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