Personality Drive: Broad Behavioral Mechanisms as a Substrate for Variation in Mate Choice
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This project uses a powerful animal model, swordtail fish, to understand how learning and personality shape how individuals choose their mates. Conventional wisdom holds that animals - from humans to fruit flies - choose the "best" partner based on that partner''s vigor and health, but more and more work has shown that reproductive decisions are heavily shaped by one''s own personality, psychology, and experiences. In particular, people and animals who are bold and extroverted tend to seek different mates and act differently during courtship than those who are shy and introverted. Part of this may have to do with learning - extroverts learn better from positive rewards, introverts learn better from negative experiences. This project explores the genetic and behavioral connections between personality, learning, and mate choice. This is done by testing mate preferences, shyness and boldness, and learning ability in the same individuals, and by using genomic technology to search for a common genetic basis underlying these features. This work will help us understand how reproductive decisions change with the environment and drive the origin of new animal species. The project will support graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups. A main focus is to expand an ongoing mentorship program focused on community outreach and high-impact learning experiences for high school students. In this project, high school and college-age students will be trained during the school year as counselors for an elementary-level STEM summer camp focused on animal behavior and local natural history, applying their science knowledge towards engaging younger students.Hypotheses about the origin and maintenance of mating preferences have focused on their adaptive value with respect to mating decisions. A growing body of work has shown that biases unrelated to mating, notably at the sensory periphery, can shape mating preferences. If these biases are under divergent ecological selection, this can facilitate reproductive isolation. This project focuses on whether interspecific differences in mating preferences can emerge from personality, an ecologically important suite of behavioral traits. The swordtail fish species Xiphophorus malinche and Xiphophorus birchmanni diverge in both mating preferences and personality traits. The proposed project seeks to unravel the common mechanisms underlying personality, preference development, and mating decisions. This will be accomplished by (1) measuring phenotypic correlations between non-sexual exploratory and risk-avoidance behavior, mate-sampling patterns, and mating preferences; (2) using aversive and appetitive conditioned-response paradigms to evaluate the relationship between personality and learning mode; (3) characterizing the relationship between learning in sexual and non-sexual contexts; and (4) using hybrid genetic lines to elucidate genetic covariance between personality and preference and identify candidate genomic regions. The project will support graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups. A primary objective is expansion of an established mentorship program out of the CICHAZ field station in central Mexico, which currently focuses on community outreach and high-impact learning experiences for high school students. Under the current proposal, high school and college-age students will be trained during the school year as counselors for an elementary-level STEM summer camp focused on animal behavior and local natural history, applying their science knowledge towards engaging younger students.This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.