Do female association preferences predict the likelihood of reproduction?
Sexual selection acting on male traits through female mate choice is commonly inferred from female association preferences in dichotomous mate choice experiments. However, there are surprisingly few empirical demonstrations that such association preferences predict the likelihood of females reproducing with a particular male. This information is essential to confirm association preferences as good predictors of mate choice. We used green swordtails ( Xiphophorus helleri ) to test whether association preferences predict the likelihood of a female reproducing with a male. Females were tested for a preference for long- or short-sworded males in a standard dichotomous choice experiment and then allowed free access to either their preferred or non-preferred male. If females subsequently failed to produce fry, they were provided a second unfamiliar male with similar sword length to the first male. Females were more likely to reproduce with preferred than non-preferred males, but for those that reproduced, neither the status (preferred/non-preferred) nor the sword length (long/short) of the male had an effect on brood size or relative investment in growth by the female. There was no overall preference based on sword length in this study, but male sword length did affect likelihood of reproduction, with females more likely to reproduce with long- than short-sworded males (independent of preference for such males in earlier choice tests). These results suggest that female association preferences are good indicators of female mate choice but that ornament characteristics of the male are also important.