Female mate choice for male diet quality in the fawn-footed melomys Melomys cervinipes (#695)
Diet plays an important role in the life-history characteristics of animals, with physical condition and concomitant reproductive success being strongly influenced by diet quality. Furthermore, diet quality may influence the establishment of secondary sexual characteristics, which play a role in mate attraction. In tropical rainforests, where high quality resources might be temporally or spatially variable, the diet quality of a potential mate could signal enhanced foraging and resource-acquisition ability. Melomys cervinipes is a medium-sized, semi-arboreal rodent endemic to the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia. It plays an important role in tropical rainforest dynamics as a seed disperser and prey item. Remarkably little is known of its general biology and behaviour. Therefore, I aim to investigate whether female mate choice in the fawn-footed melomys Melomys cervinipes is influenced by dietary protein levels, a measure of diet quality, of males. I will feed male M. cervinipes one of two diets: commercial rodent feed (protein: 17%) or commercial rodent feed supplemented with a whey protein isolate (protein: 40.7%). Males will be fed the diet for at least two weeks prior to choice tests. Bedding will then be collected from both males and used in female mate choice tests. In two-way choice tests, I will present oestrus females with the odour cues of both males. I predict that females will prefer males fed the higher quality diet. Given the paucity of behavioural studies on Australian rodents in general, my results will provide valuable insight into the behaviour an important rainforest species. Furthermore, it will contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying mate choice via odour preferences based on diet quality.