How do females choose a mate? Female mate selection promotes population divergence and biodiversity, yet our understanding of how reproductive physiology affects mate selection and ultimately biodiversity is very limited. In this project, cichlid fishes from the East African Great Lakes will be used to unravel the behavioral, physiological and molecular underpinnings of the female reproductive cycle. Cichlids provide a unique opportunity to integrate the molecular and neural basis of female sexuality with the function of mate choice. The research will focus on the cichlid species Astatotilapia burtoni, which has become a major model system to study the physiological, molecular and genomic basis of social behavior, as well as the genus Xenotilapia, which exhibits an extraordinary diversity of mating systems in very closely related species. The three aims will (i) analyze the association of female sexual behavior with hormonal, morphological, and transcriptional changes throughout the reproductive cycle; (ii) test which transcriptional events in the forebrain are associated with mate choice decisions; and (iii) determine the effects of reproductive hormones on mate choice. By combining and integrating multiple levels of investigation and exploiting the spectacular biodiversity of cichlid fishes this project provides an exceptional opportunity to explain mate choice in pharmacological, neuroanatomical, physiological, molecular and genomic terms. This project will provide outstanding educational benefits to urban high school students, undergraduate, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, including members of underrepresented groups.
Molecular Basis of Social Decision Making: Towards a Mechanistic View of Mate Choice