Female sea lamprey shift orientation toward a conspecific chemical cue to escape a sensory trap

Behavioral Ecology
By: , and 



The sensory trap model of signal evolution hypothesizes that signalers adapt to exploit a cue used by the receiver in another context. Although exploitation of receiver biases can result in conflict between the sexes, deceptive signaling systems that are mutually beneficial drive the evolution of stable communication systems. However, female responses in the nonsexual and sexual contexts may become uncoupled if costs are associated with exhibiting a similar response to a trait in both contexts. Male sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) signal with a mating pheromone, 3-keto petromyzonol sulfate (3kPZS), which may be a match to a juvenile cue used by females during migration. Upstream movement of migratory lampreys is partially guided by 3kPZS, but females only move toward 3kPZS with proximal accuracy during spawning. Here, we use in-stream behavioral assays paired with gonad histology to document the transition of female preference for juvenile- and male-released 3kPZS that coincides with the functional shift of 3kPZS as a migratory cue to a mating pheromone. Females became increasingly biased toward the source of synthesized 3kPZS as their maturation progressed into the reproductive phase, at which point, a preference for juvenile odor (also containing 3kPZS naturally) ceased to exist. Uncoupling of female responses during migration and spawning makes the 3kPZS communication system a reliable means of synchronizing mate search. The present study offers a rare example of a transition in female responses to a chemical cue between nonsexual and sexual contexts, provides insights into the origins of stable communication signaling systems.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Female sea lamprey shift orientation toward a conspecific chemical cue to escape a sensory trap
Series title Behavioral Ecology
DOI 10.1093/beheco/arv224
Volume 27
Issue 3
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher International Society for Behavioral Ecology
Publisher location Oxford, UK
Contributing office(s) Great Lakes Science Center
First page 810
Last page 819
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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