Ugly Betty forced to aim for Average Joe

August 26, 2010

Less-pretty female house sparrows tend to lower their aim when selecting a mate. Addressing the lack of studies on condition-dependency of female mate choice, researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology found that female sparrows of a low quality prefer males of an equally low quality.

Researchers from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology in Vienna studied sexual selection preferences in the common house sparrow. Though it has always been assumed that females will want to choose the best possible mate, in terms of reproductive and genetic fitness, Matteo Griggio and Herbert Hoi have found that, in fact, unattractive females dare not dream of mating with males who are considered out of their league.

In sparrow terms, males who have a large patch of dark-colored feathers on the chest - the "bib" or "badge" - are considered the most attractive. The bigger the badge, the more likely the male is to have the best territory in which to rear offspring, so if females were to believe that size matters, the big-badged males should be irresistible. In order to investigate female preference, the research team randomly divided ninety-six male house sparrows in to two groups - those with an artificially enlarged black throat patch and those with an average patch. By observing the behavior of 85 different females it was possible to define a 'preferred male' as the male with whom the female spent most of her time.

"Actually, we found that overall, female sparrows don't have a preference for badge size in males", Griggio explains, "but we did find that less attractive females - those with a low weight and poor condition - have a clear preference for less attractive males with smaller or average-sized badges". Rather than not find a partner, unattractive females will simply settle for an unattractive male.

Griggio continues: "There is some good news for the plainer females though - while they may be forced to settle for less dominant males with small chest badges, these males have been shown to invest more time in parental care than their good-looking counterparts."
-end-
Notes to Editors

1. Only females in poor condition display a clear preference and prefer males with an average badge
Matteo Griggio and Herbert Hoi
BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/1912109192362668_article.pdf?random=885620

After the embargo, article available at the journal website: http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcevolbiol/

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication.

2. An image of a sparrow is available here:

http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/sparrow.jpg

Please credit 'Griggio et al., BMC Evolutionary Biology'

3. BMC Evolutionary Biology is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in all aspects of molecular and non-molecular evolution of all organisms, as well as phylogenetics and palaeontology. BMC Evolutionary Biology (ISSN 1471-2148) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, BIOSIS, CAS, EMBASE, Scopus, Zoological Record, Current Contents, CABI, Thomson Reuters (ISI) and Google Scholar.

4. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

BioMed Central

Related Mate Articles from Brightsurf:

Female mongooses start battles for chance to mate
Female banded mongooses lead their groups into fights then try to mate with enemy males in the chaos of battle, new research shows.

How a male fly knows when to make a move on a mate
Like people, fruit flies must decide when conditions are right to make a move on a mate.

Maintaining social relationships is important for more than finding a mate
Maintaining social relationships beyond the immediate family group and neighbors is important for more than finding a mate.

Investing in love and affection pays off for species that mate for life
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by biologists at the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina explains how sexual cooperation and bonding evolves in bird species that form pair bonds.

Global warming makes it harder for birds to mate, study finds
New research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Porto (CIBIO-InBIO) shows how global warming could reduce the mating activity and success of grassland birds.

Queen bees face increased chance of execution if they mate with two males rather than one
Queen stingless bees face an increased risk of being executed by worker bees if they mate with two males rather than one, according to new research by the University of Sussex and the University of São Paulo.

Despite temperature shifts, treehoppers manage to mate
A rare bright spot among dismal climate change predictions, new research findings show that some singing insects are likely to manage to reproduce even in the midst of potentially disruptive temperature changes.

Male black widows piggyback on work of rivals in a desperate attempt to find a mate
A new U of T study finds male black widow spiders will hijack silk trails left by rival males in their search for a potential mate.

Butterflies are genetically wired to choose a mate that looks just like them
Male butterflies have genes which give them a sexual preference for a partner with a similar appearance to themselves, according to new research.

Among birds-of-paradise, good looks are not enough to win a mate
Male birds-of-paradise are notorious for their wildly extravagant feather ornaments, complex calls, and shape-shifting dance moves -- all evolved to attract a mate.

Read More: Mate News and Mate Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.