A pheromone antagonist liberates female sea lamprey from a sensory trap to enable reliable communication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
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Abstract

The evolution of male signals and female preferences remains a central question in the study of animal communication. The sensory trap model suggests males evolve signals that mimic cues used in nonsexual contexts and thus manipulate female behavior to generate mating opportunities. Much evidence supports the sensory trap model, but how females glean reliable information from both mimetic signals and their model cues remains unknown. We discovered a mechanism whereby a manipulative male signal guides reliable communication in sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). Migratory sea lamprey follow a larval cue into spawning streams; once sexually mature, males release a pheromone that mimics the larval cue and attracts females. Females conceivably benefit from the mimetic pheromone during mate search but must discriminate against the model cue to avoid orienting toward larvae in nearby nursery habitats. We tested the hypothesis that spawning females respond to petromyzonol sulfate (PZS) as a behavioral antagonist to avoid attraction to the larval cue while tracking the male pheromone despite each containing attractive 3-keto petromyzonol sulfate (3kPZS). We found 1) PZS inhibited electrophysiological responses to 3kPZS and abated preferences for 3kPZS when mixed at the same or greater concentrations, 2) larvae released more PZS than 3kPZS whereas males released more 3kPZS than PZS, and 3) mixtures of 3kPZS and PZS applied at ratios measured in larval and male odorants resulted in the discrimination observed between the natural odors. Our study elucidates how communication systems that arise via deception can facilitate reliable communication.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A pheromone antagonist liberates female sea lamprey from a sensory trap to enable reliable communication
Series title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1921394117
Volume 117
Issue 13
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Contributing office(s) Great Lakes Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 7284
Last page 7289
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