Male mate choice as differential investment in contest competition is affected by female ornament expression

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High male mating effort and high variation in female quality select for male mate choice, which may be expressed as differential investment of reproductive effort based on female value. Male reproductive effort includes investment in direct contest competition with rival males for access to females, yet variation in male-male contest behavior is rarely examined in the context of male mate choice. We examine such male response to variation in female body size, reproductive state, and female-specific ornamentation in the striped plateau lizard, Sceloporus virgatus. We housed lizards in trios of 2 size-matched males and one female for 5 days, such that all 3 lizards were physically isolated and the males could see the female but not each other. We then placed males simultaneously into the female's cage and scored the interaction. Male-male aggression was not significantly affected by female body size, reproductive state, nor ornament color, but was influenced by ornament size which reliably signals the phenotypic quality of the female and her offspring. In the presence of larger-ornamented females, males engaged in more male-male aggressive display behavior more quickly, and performed fewer high-intensity contact behaviors but were equally likely to escalate to this riskier level of fighting. Our data suggest that males adjust their energetic investment during intrasexual competitive interactions in response to variation in the contested female which, assuming males gain direct or indirect benefits from their strategic allocation of reproductive effort, fits the modern understanding of male mate choice.





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