How age influences phonotaxis in virgin female Jamaican field crickets (Gryllus assimilis)
A new article in PeerJ written by Karen Pacheco, Jeff Dawson, Mike Jutting, and Sue Bertram
Female mate choice can heavily influence the evolution of male sexual signals. While mate choice was once thought to be a consistent and stable behaviour, research has shown mate selection is often very dynamic and variable throughout a female’s life. There are a number of environmental and internal factors that can affect a female’s mate choice (Figure 1). For instance, a female suddenly in danger of encountering a predator may alter her final mate decision. A female’s past sexual experience and her age   can also play a role in determining her mate choice. We currently have a vague understanding of how and why various intrinsic factors, such as female age, can cause variation in mate preferences and what the overall effect is on the evolutionary direction of male sexual traits.In one of our studies, which was recently published in PeerJ, we examined how one of these factors, female age, influenced female mate preferences in the Jamaican field cricket, Gryllus assimilis. Research on other species including cockroaches (Nauphoeta cinerea)6 and guppies (Poecilia reticulate)5 has revealed that as females age, their health and likelihood of future reproduction progressively declines. Because of this, older females may be less choosy in selecting mates compared to younger females who have higher reproductive potential.
In crickets and other acoustic insects, females find and assess the attractiveness of potential mates using acoustic signals produced by the males of their species (termed ‘phonotaxis’) . We tested a wide range of female ages and assessed female phonotactic response to a male acoustic mate attraction signal using a specially built apparatus called a trackball. The trackball enables us to suspend a female over rotatable sphere and measure her movement associated with her attempt to move towards a speaker playing a male’s acoustic signal (Figure 2). Using the trackball and associated computer software, we measured how fast a female moved towards the speaker (velocity), how far she moved (total path length), and whether she generally seemed to be attempting to move towards the speaker (net vector score).
We found that female age influenced phonotaxis response: older females (13 days post adult moult) moved further and at higher velocities than females in other age groups in an attempt to reach the speaker (Figure 3).
We also found that older females (10-13 days post adult moult) tended to more accurately orient themselves and move towards the active speaker than younger females (1-7 days post adult moult). The polar plots below (Figure 4) show the average direction and velocity (red arrows) towards the active speaker (0°) for females across all 10 age groups.
Overall, we found age influenced female G. assimilis phonotaxis, where middle aged adult females’ (10-13 days old) displayed the strongest phonotaxis compared to younger or older females. The high speed and long distance travelled observed in young females (1-7 day) may signify higher energy reserves9, but their random orientation suggests little interest in the standardized acoustic mate attraction signal. We provide two possible explanations for the young females’ inattention towards the standard mate attraction signal: stronger preferences and lack of maturity. Very young females may have greater requirements in mate selection and prefer more extreme male traits. Alternatively, very young females may be too young to respond to the call because they are not reproductively mature yet. Future research should present young females with multiple male signals to determine if indeed they are reproductively immature or only phonolocating toward signals with extreme trait values. Conversely, the older females oriented toward the speaker, suggesting interest, but walked at reduced speeds and covered shorter distances, possibly indicating senescence. Overall, our findings are consistent with most studies on how age influences mating preference: diminished choosiness with increasing age . Our study suggests 10- and 13-day females are most responsive when quantifying the preference landscape for G. assimilis sexual signals.
Karen Pacheco, Jeff Dawson, Mike Jutting, and Sue Bertram (2013). How age influences phonotaxis in virgin female Jamaican field crickets (Gryllus assimilis) PeerJ : 10.7717/peerj.130
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