Female choice for male motor skills

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Dec 7;278(1724):3523-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0382. Epub 2011 Apr 20.


Sexual selection was proposed by Darwin to explain the evolution of male sexual traits such as ornaments and elaborate courtship displays. Empirical and theoretical studies have traditionally focused on ornaments; the reasons for the evolution of elaborate, acrobatic courtship displays remain unclear. We addressed the hypothesis that females choose males on the basis of subtle differences in display performance, indicating motor skills that facilitate survival. Male golden-collared manakins (Manacus vitellinus) perform elaborate, acrobatic courtship displays. We used high-speed cameras to record the displays of wild males and analysed them in relation to male reproductive success. Females preferred males that performed specific display moves at greater speed, with differences of tens of milliseconds strongly impacting female preference. In additional males, we recorded telemetrically the heart rate during courtship using miniature transmitters and found that courtship is associated with profoundly elevated heart rates, revealing a large metabolic investment. Our study provides evidence that females choose their mates on the basis of subtle differences in motor performance during courtship. We propose that elaborate, acrobatic courtship dances evolve because they reflect motor skills and cardiovascular function of males.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Courtship*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Male
  • Mating Preference, Animal*
  • Motor Skills
  • Panama
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Telemetry / veterinary
  • Video Recording