Does sensory expansion benefit asexual species? An olfactory discrimination test in Amazon mollies

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Why are asexual vertebrates so rare? One seldom explored avenue to understanding the evolutionary persistence of extant asexual species is their sensory ecology—how they perceive and respond to the environment. Asexual species formed by hybridization have been hypothesized to have an expanded sensory repertoire because they carry 1 allele from each of their parental species, including alleles that impact sensory function. The ability to detect odorants in the environment is a likely candidate for this expansion but has never been explored in this context. Here, we explore the olfactory abilities of the asexual Amazon molly, a gynogenetic fish formed by hybridization 100000 years ago. We test whether Amazon mollies can use only olfactory cues to detect conspecifics, detect heterospecific males, and discriminate between males infected with a common parasite. We further explore whether a female’s size, a proxy for age, explains any variation in her behavior. We find strong evidence that Amazon mollies use olfactory cues to detect conspecifics but surprisingly may avoid heterospecific males based on olfactory cues alone. We find no evidence that females use chemical cues to discriminate between infected and noninfected males. We also find that smaller Amazon mollies are more likely to use chemical cues. This study highlights the potential importance of sensory systems in asexual vertebrates.

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