Female Choice or Male Sex Drive? The Advantages of Male Body Size during Mating in Drosophila Melanogaster
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The mating success of larger male Drosophila melanogaster in the laboratory and the wild has been traditionally been explained by female choice, even though the reasons are generally hard to reconcile. Female choice can explain this success by virtue of females taking less time to mate with preferred males, but so can the more aggressive or persistent courtships efforts of large males. Since mating is a negotiation between the two sexes, the behaviors of both are likely to interact and influence mating outcomes. Using a series of assays, we explored these negotiations by testing for the relative influence of male behaviors and its effect on influencing female courtship arousal threshold, which is the time taken for females to accept copulation. Our results show that large males indeed have higher copulation success compared to smaller males. Competition between two males or an increasing number of males had no influence on female sexual arousal threshold;-females therefore may have a relatively fixed 'arousal threshold' that must be reached before they are ready to mate, and larger males appear to be able to manipulate this threshold sooner. On the other hand, the females' physiological and behavioral state drastically influences mating; once females have crossed the courtship arousal threshold they take less time to mate and mate indiscriminately with large and small males. Mating quicker with larger males may be misconstrued to be due to female choice; our results suggest that the mating advantage of larger males may be more a result of heightened male activity and relatively less of female choice. Body size per se may not be a trait under selection by female choice, but size likely amplifies male activity and signal outputs in courtship, allowing them to influence female arousal threshold faster.