"We found that females that heard attractive males beforehand were less attracted to average males than females that heard unattractive males beforehand," Bailey said. "In non-social invertebrates the outcome of male ornament evolution may depend much more on the ability of females to remember information about social encounters than was previously thought.
"Our research shows that insects can learn about each other. They are a lot cleverer than we thought they were. In the past, people have thought of insects somewhat as mindless automatons that just follow certain decision rules. But it is becoming increasingly clear that they have complex cognitive capacities that play an important role."
Zuk, the research paper's only coauthor, and Bailey performed their research in the lab using several hundred field crickets. In their experiments, they exposed all females to an 'average' male song, and assessed the females' responses to it. If the females responded, the researchers inferred that the females found the song attractive.
Then, they manipulated a different set of females' experience beforehand, with some having heard attractive songs, and some having heard unattractive songs. Bailey and Zuk found that those females that heard unattractive songs responded more strongly to the 'average' male than those females that heard the attractive song, showing that prior experience affected perception of attractiveness.
Next in their research, Bailey and Zuk plan to focus on male field crickets.
"Can male crickets learn, too, about other males around them?" Bailey said. "Does it affect their willingness to sing? Or their tendency to engage in aggressive encounters with other males? And does the social environment they experience influence their evaluations of females? We would like to explore these questions."
Bailey, who joined UCR's Dep
|Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala|
University of California - Riverside