Mate Choice could be Random in Female Rats (Rattus norvegicus)
Female mate choice is often investigated in terms of reproductive success in order to understand how male characteristics contribute to sexual attractiveness. Previous studies have found that females rats prefer mating with their first encounter rather than males visited subsequently, suggesting that the rewarding value of this first encounter is enough to reinforce mating with the first partner. Using a multiple chambers paradigm, we allowed female rats to copulate freely with three males placed each in a different chamber. Then, we switched the males' position, and let the female interact with them freely again within the same session. We tested whether female mate choice was relying rather on a preferred male rat or on a preferred mating location. The results showed that females spent most time with the male in the chamber of 1st entry in the beginning, but as soon as male rats switched chambers, the female rat continued to copulate with the new male in the same chamber of 1st entry, instead of mating with her previously preferred male rat. This suggests that the male preference is an artefact of location preference. Therefore, female mate choice seems to be rather random than the consequence of an individual choice based on male characteristics. This finding, although contradictory with the intuitive feeling that mate choice is a crucial feature in sexual and reproductive behavior, is supported by several recent observations. In the coming years, behavioral neuroscience should bring light to the brain processes at work in random mate choice.
Submitted manuscript version. Published version available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.10.031.