An Indirect Cue of Predation Risk Counteracts Female Preference for Conspecifics in a Naturally Hybridizing Fish Xiphophorus birchmanni Academic Article uri icon


  • Mate choice is context dependent, but the importance of current context to interspecific mating and hybridization is largely unexplored. An important influence on mate choice is predation risk. We investigated how variation in an indirect cue of predation risk, distance to shelter, influences mate choice in the swordtail Xiphophorus birchmanni, a species which sometimes hybridizes with X. malinche in the wild. We conducted mate choice experiments to determine whether females attend to the distance to shelter and whether this cue of predation risk can counteract female preference for conspecifics. Females were sensitive to shelter distance independent of male presence. When conspecific and heterospecific X. malinche males were in equally risky habitats (i.e., equally distant from shelter), females associated primarily with conspecifics, suggesting an innate preference for conspecifics. However, when heterospecific males were in less risky habitat (i.e., closer to shelter) than conspecific males, females no longer exhibited a preference, suggesting that females calibrate their mate choices in response to predation risk. Our findings illustrate the potential for hybridization to arise, not necessarily through reproductive "mistakes", but as one of many potential outcomes of a context-dependent mate choice strategy.

author list (cited authors)

  • Willis, P. M., Rosenthal, G. G., & Ryan, M. J.

citation count

  • 24

publication date

  • April 2012