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What Makes Females ‘Choosy’ and Males ‘Sexy’?

Interview with Emily Weigel, a graduate student pursuing joint PhDs in Integrative Biology and Ecology, Evolution, and Behavioral Biology at Michigan State University

What makes females ‘choosy’ and males ‘sexy’? How do the factors that determine ‘choosiness’ and ‘sex appeal’ interact and influence investment in reproduction?

Broadly, I am interested in signal communication and sexual selection. In particular, I study how males and females make mating decisions, and what impact those decisions have on the evolution of species.

I seek to understand what factors communicate with whom to mate, how the ‘best’ mate might change with ecological and evolutionary time, and what consequences result when decision-making factors, such as visual cues, are altered or decay.

I ask how females weigh certain male factors (size, coloration, parental ability, etc.), and whether the factors match those in which males most invest. Are there factors which consistently ‘outweigh’ others in both females decisions and male investment? Do external factors (time of season, ecology of the surroundings, mate availability, density of mates) shape both the factors used in, and the robustness of, mating decisions? How general are mating decisions and courtship strategies across individuals and populations, and can we, based on a set of variables, predict how species should change?

My study species: Three-Spined Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus aculeatus)

Read Emil Weigel’s blog on SpartanIdeas.MSU.edu

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