Reversal of female mate choice by copying in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata)

Proc Biol Sci. 1992 Aug 22;249(1325):179-84. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1992.0101.


Ever since Fisher (1958) formalized models of sexual selection, female mate choice has been assumed to be a genetically determined trait. Females, however, may also use social cues to select mates. One such cue might be the mate choice of conspecifics. Here we report the first direct evidence that a female's preference for a particular male can in fact be reversed by social cues. In our experiments using the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata), this reversal was mediated by mate-copying opportunities, such that a female (the 'focal' female) is given the opportunity to choose between two males, followed by a period in which she observes a second female (the 'model' female) displaying a preference for the male she herself did not prefer initially. When allowed to choose between the same males a second time, compared with control tests, a significant proportion of focal females reversed their mate choice and copied the preference of the model female. These results provide strong evidence for the role of non-genetic factors in sexual selection and underlie the need for new models of sexual selection that explicitly incorporate both genetic and cultural aspects of mate choice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Poecilia
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*