Asexuals Looking for Sex: Conflict Between Species and Mate-quality Recognition in Sailfin Mollies (Poecilia latipinna)

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When two closely related species are sympatric the process of species recognition (identifying conspecifics) and mate-quality recognition (increased fitness benefits) can yield a conflict when heterospecifics resemble high-quality conspecifics. Conflict in species versus mate-quality recognition may serve as a possible mechanism for the persistence of unisexual, gynogenetic Amazon mollies (Poecilia formosa). Amazon mollies require sperm from closely related species (e.g., sailfin mollies, P. latipinna) to start embryogenesis but inheritance is strictly maternal. When choosing mates, male sailfin mollies from populations sympatric with Amazon mollies may rely on traits indicating species identity rather than those indicating mate quality. Conversely, males from allopatric populations may rely more on traits indicating mate quality. Previous work has found that male sailfin mollies in sympatry exhibit a significantly greater mating preference for female sailfin mollies over Amazon mollies compared to males in allopatry. In addition, male sailfin mollies prefer to associate with and produce more sperm in the presence of larger conspecific females, which are more fecund. We hypothesized that male sailfin mollies experience a conflict in species recognition and mate-quality recognition in the presence of Amazon mollies that are relatively larger than female sailfin mollies. To test this hypothesis, we paired males from sympatric and allopatric populations with a larger Amazon molly and a smaller female sailfin molly. We scored the number of mating attempts that males directed to conspecific and heterospecific females. Males in mostsympatric and allopatric populations demonstrate no clear preference for conspecifics. In addition, we found some evidence for a difference in mating preference between allopatric and sympatric populations with males from allopatry showing a greater heterospecific mate preference. These results indicate a conflict between species and mate-quality recognition. In sympatry this conflict may contribute to the persistence of gynogenetic Amazon mollies.


Gumm, J., & Gabor, C. (2005). Asexuals looking for sex: conflict between species and mate-quality recognition in sailfin mollies ( Poecilia latipinna). Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology, 58(6), 558-565. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0957-z

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