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Male swordtails court with an audience in mind

By Heidi S Fisher and Gil G Rosenthal


Females are usually considered to be the target of male courtship behaviour. In nature, however, social interactions rarely occur without other observers; thus, it is conceivable that some male courtship behaviours are directed not towards females, but rather towards male rivals. The northern swordtail, Xiphophorus birchmanni, is a freshwater fish found in high densities in natural streams. Males court by swimming close to and in parallel with the female, raising their large sail-like dorsal fin, and quivering briefly. Here, we show that females prefer males that display small dorsal fins to those with large ones, and that males are less aggressive to other males with large dorsal fins. Male swordtails also raise their dorsal fins more frequently when courting in the presence of other males. These results suggest that, despite female avoidance of large dorsal fins, males that raise their fin during courtship benefit by intimidating potential competitors; the intended receivers of this signal are thus males, not females. Intrasexual selection can therefore offset the forces of intersexual selection, even in a courtship display

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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