Theoretical developments in behavioural ecology have generated increased interest in the proximate mechanisms underlying fertilization, but little is known about how fertilization success is regulated by cues from the external or social environment in males and females. Here, we use a Pavlovian conditioning paradigm to show that inseminations resulting from mating male and female Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) are more likely to fertilize eggs when they occur in a context predicting that an opposite-sex bird will appear than when they occur in a context predicting that an opposite-sex bird will not appear. This effect occurs when either the male or the female is the target of the conditioning. Thus, processes occurring during or after mating that contribute to fertilization success are subject to the influence of distal cues, confirming control by brain-level mechanisms. Conditioning is a widespread property of the nervous system and the demonstration that context conditioning can influence male and female reproductive success, and not simply mating success, has widespread implications for the fertilization successes of different types of copulation in natural mating systems.
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