Choosing a mate in a high predation environment: Female preference in the fiddler crabUca terpsichores




Perez, Daniela M.
Christy, John H.
Backwell, Patricia R. Y.

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Wiley Open Access


The interplay between a receiver’s sensory system and a sender’s courtship signals is fundamental to the operation of sexual selection. Male courtship signals that match a female receiver’s preexisting perceptual biases can be favored yet the message they communicate is not always clear. Do they simply beacon the male’s location or also indicate his quality? We explored this question in a species of fiddler crab Uca terpsichores that courts under elevated predation risk and that mates and breeds underground in the safety of males’ burrows. Sexually receptive females leave their own burrows and are thereby exposed to avian predators as they sequentially approach several courting males before they choose one. Males court by waving their single greatly enlarge claw and sometimes by building a sand hood next to their burrow entrance. Hoods are attractive because they elicit a risk-reducing orientation behavior in females, and it has been suggested that claw waving may also serve primarily to orient the female to the male. If the wave communicates male quality, then females should discriminate mates on the basis of variation in elements of the wave, as has been shown for other fiddler crabs. Alternatively, variation in elements of the claw waving display may have little effect on the display’s utility as a beacon of the location of the male and his burrow. We filmed courting males and females under natural conditions as females responded to claw waving and chose mates. Analysis of the fine-scale courtship elements between the males that females rejected and those they chose revealed no differences. When predation risk during courtship is high, males’ courtship displays may serve primarily to guide females to safe mating and breeding sites and not as indicators of male quality apart from their roles as beacons.



courtship, sensory trap, male location, male quality, wave display, drumming display



Ecology and Evolution


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Open Access

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