We measured whether males of five species of poeciliid fish made detours to the right or left of a vertical-bar obstacle in order to approach a group of females. Three of these species, Gambusia holbrooki, Gambusia nicaraguensis and Poecilia reticulata showed a significant bias to the left, whereas Brachyrhaphis roseni and Girardinus falcatus showed a significant bias to the right. When tested for direction of turning in front of an opaque barrier, or when a dummy predator was used as a target in a detour test, G. holbrooki and G. falcatus showed similar biases to the right (opaque barrier) and left (predator), thus suggesting that the difference observed when females were used as a target could arise from species differences in the degree of sexual motivation in a novel environment. The two species that showed bias to the right with the females were less likely to exhibit sexual behaviour when placed in a novel environment. Moreover, manipulation of the factors affecting the relative strength of sexual motivation and of fear of a novel environment, such as how long fish were maintained in captivity or in the test apparatus before being tested, caused shifts in the direction of the lateral asymmetries. These results suggest that the presence of functional asymmetries in behaviour could be widespread among vertebrates and that the direction of such asymmetries tends to be strikingly similar in closely related species, thus supporting the hypothesis of an early evolution of laterality in brain and behaviour.
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