But, "We got a big, significant result," she said.
Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are an ideal species for this study, Hughes said, because the males' color variations are so visible and because there is so much variation. Other fish show color variation but not as widely as the guppy.
"These guys are sort of the champions of variation," she said.
And it's not that the rare males are simply trying harder to land a female. All male guppies do elaborate mating rituals, fanning out their fins and pursuing a mate.
The next question to answer, Hughes said, is why. Why do female guppies go for the rarest male in a particular population? It's possible that in choosing a mate who appears unknown to her, a female guppy is trying to avoid procreating with a relative, which can lead to genetic disorders in offspring.
The guppy question speaks to a longstanding puzzle within evolutionary biology: Why are individuals within species so genetically diverse?
Understanding why species are genetically diverse is key to understanding human variation in disease susceptibility, for maintaining healthy crop and livestock populations and for preserving endangered species, Hughes said.
|Contact: Nicole Brooks|
Florida State University