Female preference for fly song: playback experiments confirm the targets of sexual selection

Anim Behav. 1998 Sep;56(3):713-717. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1998.0799.


The courtship song of Drosophila is thought to be involved in sexual selection and species recognition. Because of the mating system of flies, however, directly demonstrating that song influences female preference is difficult. The majority of previous studies have used an experimental design that potentially confounds male and female reactions to song. In D. montana, correlational evidence has suggested that males that produce short sound pulses consisting of a high number of sound cycles (i.e. a high carrier frequency) have a higher mating success than other males. In this study, we played synthetic song that varied in pulse length and carrier frequency to individual females in the laboratory, both alone and in the presence of mute males. We scored female preference via an acceptance posture, 'wing spreading', which the females of this species usually display prior to mounting by a male. Females responded to synthetic song in the absence of males. The presence of mute males significantly increased their overall responsiveness, but the relative effectiveness of the songs did not change, eliminating male reaction to song as a possible confounding factor in the results. The interaction between pulse length and carrier frequency determined the discrimination between song types, with females responding most readily to song consisting of short pulses with a high carrier frequency. Thus, direct examination of female preferences supports the previous studies of male mating success, and confirms female song preference as a likely determinant of male mating success. Copyright 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour