Head ML, Kozak GM & Boughman JW (2013) Female preference for well adapted males promotes sexual isolation in threespine sticklebacks. Ecology & Evolution. 3(7): 2183-2196.
Female mate preferences for ecologically relevant traits may enhance natural selection, leading to rapid divergence. They may also forge a link between mate choice within species and sexual isolation between species. Here, we examine female mate preference for two ecologically important traits: body size and body shape. We measured female preferences within and between species of benthic, limnetic, and anadromous threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus species complex). We found that mate preferences differed between species and between contexts (i.e., within vs. between species). Within species, anadromous females preferred males that were deep bodied for their size, benthic females preferred larger males (as measured by centroid size), and limnetic females preferred males that were more limnetic shaped. In heterospecific mating trials between benthics and limnetics, limnetic females continued to prefer males that were more limnetic like in shape when presented with benthic males. Benthic females showed no preferences for size when presented with limnetic males. These results show that females use ecologically relevant traits to select mates in all three species and that female preference has diverged between species. These results suggest that sexual selection may act in concert with natural selection on stickleback size and shape. Further, our results suggest that female preferences may track adaptation to local environments and contribute to sexual isolation between benthic and limnetic sticklebacks.