Effects of parasitic infection on mate sampling by female wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo): should infected females be more or less choosy?

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Investigations of parasite-mediated sexual selection have concentrated on the effects of parasites on males. Differences in female susceptibility to parasitic infection may also cause variation in reproductive behavior. I propose two alternative hypotheses to explain how infected females may alter their mate sampling behavior. In the first hypothesis, infected females sample fewer prospective mates because chronic parasitic infection imposes energetic costs that limit the time and calories that a female can expend in mate searching. A novel alternative hypothesis is that females recognize their own susceptibility to infection and thus invest more time searching for a male phenotype that indicates he offers genes complementary to her genome. In recombination, these good genes would allow her offspring to better resist parasites despite their mother's susceptibility. I examined the mate sampling behavior of experimentally infected wild turkey hens when presented with an array of males, and compared them to control hens. Infected females did not invest more time assessing individuals, did not wait longer to choose a male, nor were they less likely to solicit during the trial. They did differ from control females in that they visited more males before soliciting copulation and exhibited different preference functions for snood length. These results suggest that females are not so energetically restricted by latent coccidia infection that they must hurry to find a mate. Instead, it appears that infected females assess a larger set of males as prospective mates, perhaps to increase the opportunity to obtain complementary genes for parasite resistance.

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