Sexual signals of fish species mimic the spatial statistics of their habitat: evidence for processing bias in animal signal evolution

Samuel. V. Hulse, Julien P. Renoult and Tamra C. Mendelson

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Aug 12, 2019
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Received Date: 22nd July 19

The diversity of animal visual displays has intrigued scientists for centuries. Sexual selection theory has explained some of this diversity, yet most of this effort has focused on simple aspects of signal design, such as color. The evolution of complex patterns that characterize many sexual displays remains largely unexplained. The field of empirical aesthetics, a subdiscipline of cognitive psychology, has shown that humans are attracted to visual images that match the spatial statistics of natural scenes. We investigated whether applying this result to animals could help explain the diversification of complex sexual signaling patterns. We used Fourier analysis to compare the spatial statistics of body patterning in ten species of darters (Etheostoma spp.), a group of freshwater fishes with striking male visual displays, with those of their respective habitats. We found a significant correlation between the spatial statistics of darter patterns and those of their habitats for males, but not for females. Our results suggest that visual characteristics of natural environments can influence the evolution of complex patterns in sexual signals.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications

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