Predation Risk Reduces a Female Preference for Heterospecific Males in the Green Swordtail

Natalie Pilakouta* (Corresponding Author), Maria A. Correa, Suzanne H. Alonzo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of a predator can result in the alteration, loss or reversal of a mating preference. Under predation risk, females often change their initial preference for conspicuous males, favouring less flashy males to reduce the risk of being detected by predators. Previous studies on predator‐induced plasticity in mate preferences have given females a choice between more and less conspicuous conspecific males. However, in species that naturally hybridize, it is also possible that females might choose an inconspicuous heterospecific male over a conspicuous conspecific male under predation risk. Our study addresses this question using the green swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri) and the southern platyfish (Xiphophorus maculatus), which are sympatric in the wild. We hypothesized that X. helleri females would prefer the sworded conspecific males in the absence of a predator but favour the less conspicuous, swordless, heterospecific males in the presence of a predator. Contrary to our expectation, females associated more with the heterospecific male than the conspecific male in the control (no predator) treatment, and they were non‐choosy in the predator treatment. This might reflect that females were attracted to the novel male phenotype when there was no risk of predation but became more neophobic after predator exposure. Regardless of the underlying mechanism, our results suggest that predation pressure may affect female preferences for conspecific versus heterospecific males. We also found striking within‐population, between‐individual variation in behavioural plasticity: females differed in the strength and direction of their preferences, as well as in the extent to which they altered their preferences in response to changes in perceived predation risk. Such variation in female preferences for heterospecific males could potentially lead to temporal and spatial variation in hybridization rates in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date15 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • behavioural reaction norms
  • mate choice
  • neophilia
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • predation risk
  • Xiphophorus


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