Experience matters: The effects of the social environment on mate choice plasticity in a wolf spider (#21)
Females often encounter potential mates prior to any mating decisions. Consequently, they may adjust their preferences based on various conditions in an individual’s social environment, including the availability and quality of potential mates. However, the ability for females to adjust their mating preferences may depend on the signal modality in which females are able to assess males. In a series of experiments, I tested whether simulated social conditions during the pre-adult stages of female wolf spiders, Schizocosa ocreata, resulted in variation in adult mating decisions through the use of video and/or vibratory playback. First, I manipulated the availability of males that females visually assessed in order to tease apart whether the number of males simultaneously encountered or the encounter rate best predicted female mate preferences. Instead, the total number of males that females saw as juveniles best predicted female selectivity for tuft size. Second, females were presented with males of varying visual quality (small tufts, average tufts, or large tufts). Females preferred males that were familiar to them, even demonstrating preferences towards low-quality males if they had experience with only these males as juveniles. Third, I tested whether females would demonstrate stronger preferences towards unimodal signals (vibratory or visual) depending on different sensory experiences with courting male signals (vibratory only, visual only, or both). Females were more receptive towards the unimodal signal that they experienced as juveniles. However, all females preferred multimodal signals, regardless of previous sensory experience. Finally, given the effects of sensory experience, I examined the effects of perceived availability and quality on adult vibratory preferences when females were only able to experience vibratory playback of male courtship signals as juveniles. Taken together, these experiments highlight that adult mating decisions are impacted social conditions. Further experiments should also examine whether plasticity in female preferences depends on the available signal modality in which females are able to experience.