Conspicuous female ornamentation and tests of male mate preference in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 25;10(3):e0120723. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120723. eCollection 2015.


Sexual selection drives the evolution of exaggerated male ornaments in many animal species. Female ornamentation is now acknowledged also to be common but is generally less well understood. One example is the recently documented red female throat coloration in some threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) populations. Although female sticklebacks often exhibit a preference for red male throat coloration, the possibility of sexual selection on female coloration has been little studied. Using sequential and simultaneous mate choice trials, we examined male mate preferences for female throat color, as well as pelvic spine color and standard length, using wild-captured threespine sticklebacks from the Little Campbell River, British Columbia. In a multivariate analysis, we found no evidence for a population-level mate preference in males, suggesting the absence of directional sexual selection on these traits arising from male mate choice. Significant variation was detected among males in their preference functions, but this appeared to arise from differences in their mean responsiveness across mating trials and not from variation in the strength (i.e., slope) of their preference, suggesting the absence of individual-level preferences as well. When presented with conspecific intruder males, male response decreased as intruder red throat coloration increased, suggesting that males can discriminate color and other aspects of phenotype in our experiment and that males may use these traits in intrasexual interactions. The results presented here are the first to explicitly address male preference for female throat color in threespine sticklebacks.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biological Phenomena / physiology
  • Color
  • Female
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Phenotype
  • Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Smegmamorpha / physiology*

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.