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Sexual cooperation and conflict in butterflies: a male-transferred anti-aphrodisiac reduces harassment of recently mated females.

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Abstract

Sexual selection theory predicts that the different selection pressures on males and females result in sexual conflict. However, in some instances males and females share a common interest which could lead to sexual cooperation. In the pierid butterfly Pieris napi the male and the recently mated female share a common interest in reducing female harassment by other males soon after mating. Here we show that P. napi males transfer an anti-aphrodisiac to the female at mating, methyl-salicylate (MeS), which is a volatile substance which mated females emit when courted and which makes males quickly abandon them. A 13C-labelling experiment demonstrated that only males synthesize MeS. The effect of this antiaphrodisiac is so strong that most males will refrain from mating with virgin females to whom MeS has been artificially applied. In P. napi, males also transfer nutrients to females at mating. This increases female fecundity and longevity and so females benefit from remating. Hence, sexual cooperation gradually turns to conflict. Future research is required to reveal which sex controls the gradual decrease in the MeS titre which is necessary for allowing mated females to regain attractiveness and remate.

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