In many animal species, males have more than one secondary sexual character. Apart from theoretical considerations about the evolution of multiple traits, there are almost no empirical studies on female mate choice decisions based on combinations of traits as opposed to decisions based on single traits. Because three-spined sticklebacks are exceptionally well suited to be tested with computer animation technique, which itself fills the gap of adequate test paradigms for multiple traits, we tested female sticklebacks for their preferences for both single and combined male traits. We used virtual stickleback males that differed either in red throat coloration, courtship intensity, body size, or in combinations of these traits. The virtual male with increased redness was found to be preferred by females, whereas the male courting more intensely was not. The tests for combinations of traits revealed the more pronounced female preferences, the more traits were available to the females to judge male quality.
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