Large male advantage for access to females: evidence of male-male competition and female discrimination in a territorial salamander


In the natural habitat visited in this study, adult male red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) found near females were significantly larger than adult males found alone; there was no evidence for size assortative associations. Previous research has indicated that females associate preferentially with males that occupy high quality territories and that larger individuals are more successful at obtaining higher quality areas. In laboratory experiments, when resource quality was held constant and males were restrained so that male-male interactions were prohibited, females discriminated behaviorally between large and small males by spending more time visually and chemically assessing larger males and more time apparently attempting to leave the chamber when near smaller males. Females were found near the larger males at the end of the trials significantly more often than predicted by chance. In a separate experiment in which only females were restrained, larger males spent significantly more time in aggressive postures when paired with smaller males than when alone with the female. Smaller males spent significantly more time in submissive postures when paired with larger males and more time near the female when alone. Therefore, large body size of males may positively affect both intra- and intersexual interactions and, ultimately, mating success of male P. cinereus.

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology