Discipline: Ecology Environmental and Earth Sciences
Kyle Gonsalves - University of the Virgin Islands
Co-Author(s): Robert Mobely and Jenette Boughman, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Sexual selection amongst animals is a huge driving force for evolution. Sexual selection is a process by which a specific set of traits are favored and can consequently lead to divergent speciation. Recent studies have found that there is currently a divergence of species occurring amongst the three spine stickleback. This emergent splitting has caused scientists to categorize some populations as separate species known as Limnetic and Benthic. These populations are biological species as they are reproductively isolated. Understanding stickleback female mating choices is a key component to understanding factors that may contribute to divergence. Two sensory elements that may be involved with sexual selection are olfaction and the lateral line system. These two sensory systems are used to identify differences in species. Thus, our research interest lie in the significance of olfaction and the lateral line systems in female mating choice of conspecific and heterospecifc males in three-spine stickleback. We hypothesize that if olfaction and/or the lateral line systems are removed, female three-spine stickleback will be unable to distinguish between the two species. We conducted a behavioral study to determine the effect that olfaction and the lateral line system have on female selection in both species. I compared courtship between benthic and limnetic females with males. During these trials the females had their olfactory, lateral line system or both of the senses removed. Gravid females were placed in tanks with either conspecific or heterospecfic male and observed for a set amount of time. Specific courtship behaviors were recorded. We were able to collect data on 73 behavioral trials. An analysis was conducted to determine if there were any noticeable differences in preferences by female population or experimental manipulation. We ran statistical tests and found that when Limnetic females that underwent experimental treatments showed a decrease in discrimination for mating with Limnetic males. We believe that this phenomenon could occur when mating conspefically with Benthics which would cause a breakdown of their reproductive isolation. With these results we can glimpse into the consequences of changes in sensory modalities that can bring about disruptions in their ecosystem. I would like to further understand three spine stickleback by looking into visions effect on mate selection, by comparing color blinded female selection to control selection.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): This project is being funded by the NSF Grant DEB-0952659 through Janette Boughman as well as through a MARC through MARC 5T34GM008422 Grant.
Faculty Advisor: Robert Mobely,