A receiver bias in the origin of three-spined stickleback mate choice

Carl Smith*, Iain Barber, Robert J. Wootton, Lars Chittka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (SciVal)


Receiver-bias models of signal evolution predict that male sexually selected traits evolve through prior selection for other functions. Female three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in many populations show a mating preference for males with a red throat and jaw. It has been proposed that this preference evolved because the choice of males with red coloration confers direct and indirect benefits to females in accordance with the Fisher-Zahavi model of sexual selection. We present indirect evidence that the preference is an effect of a receiver bias in the perceptual or cognitive system of G. aculeatus for the colour red, which may have arisen in the context of foraging. In laboratory trials, male and female three-spined and nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius) responded most strongly to red objects outside a mating context. This result demonstrates a correlation between a sexually selected trait and an intrinsic attraction to red objects, and supports the sensory-exploitation model for the evolution of red nuptial coloration in three-spined sticklebacks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)949-955
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1542
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2004


  • Colour
  • Gasterosteidae
  • Mate choice
  • Sensory bias
  • Sensory drive
  • Sexual selection


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