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The relationship between a combinatorial processing rule and a continuous mate preference function in an insect

Cite this dataset

Desjonquères, Camille; Holt, Rebecca; Speck, Bretta; Rodriguez, Rafael (2020). The relationship between a combinatorial processing rule and a continuous mate preference function in an insect [Dataset]. Dryad.


Mate choice involves processing signals that can reach high levels of complexity and feature multiple components, even in small animals with tiny brains. This raises the question of whether and how such organisms deal with this complexity. One solution involves combinatorial processing, whereby different signal elements are processed as single units. Combinatorial processing has been described in several mammals and birds, and recently in a vibrationally signalling insect, Enchenopa treehoppers. Here, we ask about the relationship between combinatorial rules and mate preferences for continuously varying signal features. Enchenopa male advertisement signals are composed of two elements: a ‘whine’ followed by a set of pulses. The dominant frequency of the whine and element combination both matter to females. We presented synthetic signals varying in element order (natural [whine-pulses], reverse [pulses-whine]) and in frequency to Enchenopa females and recorded their responses. The reverse combination resulted in a decrease in attractiveness of the signals, and also slightly changed the shape of the preference for frequency. We found that females could be classified into three ‘types’: females with both a strong preference and a strong combinatorial rule, females with both a weak preference and weak rule and females with a strong preference but a weak rule. Our results suggest that in Enchenopa signal processing, the mate preference for a continuous signal feature ‘takes precedence’ over, but also interacts with, the combinatorial rule. The relationship between the preference and the rule could evolve to take different forms according to selection on mate choice decisions. We suggest that exploring the relationship between such preferences and rules in species with more complex signals will bring insight into the evolution of the multi-component communication systems.


Full methods described in the original article.


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS–1855962

Fyssen Foundation

University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Award: Research Growth Initiative grant

University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Award: SURF