Mutual mate choice in sticklebacks: attractive males choose big females, which lay big eggs
Brighter red three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, males have been shown to be preferred by females in the laboratory but in the field, these males did not receive more eggs. Instead, they had heavier eggs in their brood. We investigated the hypothesis that sexual selection for red coloration in male sticklebacks acts through mate choice by preferred males, who can afford to be choosy, for high-quality females which lay heavier eggs. We assume here that heavier eggs provide a direct fitness advantage. In simultaneous choice tests males were presented with two females differing in size. The number of zigzags directed to and the time spent orienting to each female were measured. After the test the females laid eggs, which we counted and weighed. Bigger (i.e. longer and heavier) females laid significantly more and heavier eggs than smaller females. For all 23 males pooled together, the preferred female was the bigger of the two in 17 cases, laid more eggs in 18 cases, but laid heavier eggs in only 13 cases. When bright and dull males were analysed separately, we found that bright but not dull males spent more time oriented to the bigger female, and to the female that laid more eggs. Females preferred by bright males tended to lay heavier eggs than nonpreferred females, although this result was not quite significant. We conclude that in nature this preference for bigger females results in brighter males receiving on average heavier eggs. Assuming higher survival of bigger offspring, we propose that this can explain how brightness can be sexually selected in spite of brighter males not receiving more eggs.