Fitness Benefits of Mate Choice for Compatibility in a Socially Monogamous Species

PLoS Biol. 2015 Sep 14;13(9):e1002248. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002248. eCollection 2015.


Research on mate choice has primarily focused on preferences for quality indicators, assuming that all individuals show consensus about who is the most attractive. However, in some species, mating preferences seem largely individual-specific, suggesting that they might target genetic or behavioral compatibility. Few studies have quantified the fitness consequences of allowing versus preventing such idiosyncratic mate choice. Here, we report on an experiment that controls for variation in overall partner quality and show that zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) pairs that resulted from free mate choice achieved a 37% higher reproductive success than pairs that were forced to mate. Cross-fostering of freshly laid eggs showed that embryo mortality (before hatching) primarily depended on the identity of the genetic parents, whereas offspring mortality during the rearing period depended on foster-parent identity. Therefore, preventing mate choice should lead to an increase in embryo mortality if mate choice targets genetic compatibility (for embryo viability), and to an increase in offspring mortality if mate choice targets behavioral compatibility (for better rearing). We found that pairs from both treatments showed equal rates of embryo mortality, but chosen pairs were better at raising offspring. These results thus support the behavioral, but not the genetic, compatibility hypothesis. Further exploratory analyses reveal several differences in behavior and fitness components between "free-choice" and "forced" pairs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Finches / genetics*
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Male
  • Mating Preference, Animal / physiology*
  • Nesting Behavior*
  • Reproduction*

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.