Female fruit flies copy the acceptance, but not the rejection, of a mate

Sabine Noebel, Magdalena Monier, Laura Fargeot, Guillaume Lespagnol, Etienne Danchin, and Guillaume Isabel


Acceptance and avoidance can be socially transmitted, especially in the case of mate choice. When a Drosophila melanogaster female observes a conspecific female (called demonstrator female) choosing to mate with one of two males, the former female (called observer female) can memorize and copy the latter female’s choice. Traditionally in mate-copying experiments, demonstrations provide two types of information to observer females, namely, the acceptance (positive) of one male and the rejection of the other male (negative). To disentangle the respective roles of positive and negative information in Drosophila mate copying, we performed experiments in which demonstrations provided only one type of information at a time. We found that positive information alone is sufficient to trigger mate copying. Observer females preferred males of phenotype A after watching a female mating with a male of phenotype A in the absence of any other male. Contrastingly, negative information alone (provided by a demonstrator female actively rejecting a male of phenotype B) did not affect future observer females’ mate choice. These results suggest that the informative part of demonstrations in Drosophila mate-copying experiments lies mainly, if not exclusively, in the positive information provided by the copulation with a given male. We discuss the reasons for such a result and suggest that Drosophila females learn to prefer the successful males, implying that the underlying learning mechanisms may be shared with those of appetitive memory in non-social associative learning.


Drosophila melanogaster; mate copying; observational learning; social learning;

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Published in

Behavioral Ecology, August 2022