Cognitive ability is heritable and predicts the success of an alternative mating tactic

Carl Smith, Andre Phillips, Martin Reichard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


The ability to attract mates, acquire resources for reproduction, and successfully outcompete rivals for fertilisations may make demands on cognitive traits - the mechanisms by which an animal acquires, processes, stores, and acts upon information from its environment. Consequently, cognitive traits potentially undergo sexual selection in some mating systems. We investigated the role of cognitive traits on the reproductive performance of male rose bitterling (Rhodeus ocellatus), a freshwater fish with a complex mating system and alternative mating tactics. We quantified the learning accuracy of males and females in a spatial learning task and scored them for learning accuracy. Males were subsequently allowed to play the roles of a guarder and a sneaker in competitive mating trials, with reproductive success measured using paternity analysis. We detected a significant interaction between male mating role and learning accuracy on reproductive success, with the best performing males in maze trials showing greater reproductive success in a sneaker role than as a guarder. Using a cross-classified breeding design, learning accuracy was demonstrated to be heritable, with significant additive maternal and paternal effects. Our results imply that male cognitive traits may undergo intra-sexual selection.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20151046
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1809
Early online date3 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2015


  • Alternative mating tactics
  • Cognition
  • Learning
  • Mating system
  • Sexual selection


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