Larval competition risk shapes male–male competition and mating behavior in an anuran

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Abstract

Mate preference was long assumed to be static and open-ended. However, a growing body of evidence actually suggests that the predominant factor in mate choice fluctuates due to the context dependence of the factors involved in sexual selection. In particular, fluctuation in the local environment, the density of individuals, and the presence of heterospecifics can all alter the strength, form, or direction of sexual selection by shaping the fitness costs and benefits of the traits that mediate male–female interactions. Amphibians constitute useful biological models to examine context dependence in sexual selection as the availability of suitable breeding resources may significantly impact the cost–benefit trade-off between mating strategies. Using an experimental approach, we examined how the risk of larval competition in breeding ponds affects pond occupancy, male–male spacing behavior, and spawning decisions in an anuran, the yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata). Then, we examined how female mate choice is affected by male body condition and how the risk of larval competition might influence females when choosing a mate. Our results indicate that male pond preference is strongly affected by the presence of conspecific tadpoles. Males preferentially selected ponds free of tadpoles, and spawning mainly occurred in these same ponds. This preference influenced male spacing behavior by enhancing the proximity of competing males when the availability of good-quality sites was experimentally manipulated, which had further significant consequences on females’ choice of mate. The article also discusses the evolutionary causes and consequences of such context-dependent mate choice in amphibians and beyond.

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