Evidence that male sea lamprey increase pheromone release after perceiving a competitor [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Skye D. Fissette, Ugo Bussy, Belinda Huerta, Tyler J. Buchinger, and Weiming Li

Sexual signals evolve via selective pressures arising from male–male competition and female choice, including those originating from unintended receivers that detect the signal. For example, males can acquire information from other males signaling to females and alter their own signal. Relative to visual and acoustic signals, less is known about how such communication networks influence chemical signaling among animals. In sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), the chemical communication system is essential for reproduction, offering a useful system to study a pheromone communication network that includes signalers and both intended and unintended receivers. Male sea lamprey aggregate on spawning grounds, where individuals build nests and signal to females using sex pheromones. We examined how exposure to a major component of the male pheromone, 3keto-petromyzonol sulfate (3kPZS), influenced male pheromone signaling, and whether females had a preference for males that altered their signal. Exposure to 3kPZS, at a concentration of 5x10–10 mol l–1, simulated the presence of other male(s) and led to increased 3kPZS release rates within 10 min, followed by a return to baseline levels within 30 min. Exposure also led to increases in hepatic synthesis and circulatory transport of pheromone components. In behavioral assays, females preferred the odor of males that had been exposed to 3kPZS; therefore, males likely benefit from upregulating 3kPZS release after detecting competition for mates. Here, we define how a specific pheromone component influences chemical signaling during intrasexual competition, and show a rare example of how changes in chemical signaling strategies resulting from male competition may influence mate choice.

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