Open Access Research article

Ontogenetic shifts in male mating preference and morph-specific polyandry in a female colour polymorphic insect

Rosa Ana Sánchez-Guillén1*, Martijn Hammers2, Bengt Hansson3, Hans Van Gossum4, Adolfo Cordero-Rivera1, Dalia Ivette Galicia Mendoza1 and Maren Wellenreuther3

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Ecoloxía e Bioloxía animal, Grupo de Ecoloxía Evolutiva e da Conservación, Universidade de Vigo EUET Forestal, Campus de Pontevedra, Pontevedra 36005, Spain

2 Behavioural Ecology and Self-organization, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

3 Department of Biology, Ecology Building, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

4 Evolutionary Ecology Group, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:116  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-116

Published: 6 June 2013



Sexual conflict over mating rates may favour the origin and maintenance of phenotypes with contrasting reproductive strategies. The damselfly Ischnura elegans is characterised by a female colour polymorphism that consists of one androchrome and two gynochrome female morphs. Previous studies have shown that the polymorphism is genetic and to a high extent maintained by negative frequency-dependent mating success that varies temporally and spatially. However, the role of learning in male mating preferences has received little attention. We used molecular markers to investigate differences in polyandry between female morphs. In addition, we experimentally investigated innate male mating preferences and experience-dependent shifts in male mating preferences for female morphs.


Field and molecular data show that androchrome females were less polyandrous than gynochrome females. Interestingly, we found that naïve males showed significantly higher sexual preferences to androchrome than to gynochrome females in experimental trials. In contrast, experienced males showed no preference for androchrome females.


The ontogenetic change in male mate preferences occurs most likely because of learned mate recognition after experience with females, which in this case does not result in a preference for one of the morphs, but rather in the loss of an innate preference for androchrome females.

Female limited polymorphism; Ischnura elegans; Frequency-dependent mate choice; Learned preference; Naïve males; Female polyandry