To investigate the idea that sexual imprinting creates incipient reproductive isolation between phenotypically diverging populations, I performed experiments to determine whether colony-reared zebra finches would imprint on details of artificial white crests. In the first experiment, adults in one breeding colony wore white crests with a vertical black stripe, while in another colony adults wore crests having a horizontal black stripe; except for their crests, breeders possessed wild-type plumage and conformation. Offspring of both sexes reared in these colonies developed mate preferences for opposite-sexed birds wearing the crest type with which they were reared; neither sex developed a social preference for crested individuals of the same sex. In a second experiment, females reared by crested parents preferred crested males versus males with red leg bands, while control females (reared in a colony of wild-type, uncrested birds) preferred red-banded males in the same test. Results of a third experiment that used sexually dimorphic crest phenotypes indicate that both sexes of offspring imprinted on maternal crest patterns. Results support the hypothesis that sexual imprinting can facilitate isolation both by engendering a preference for population-typical traits and by prioritizing such an imprinting-based preference over species-typical preferences for other traits used in mate choice. Comparison with results of other recent studies indicates that imprinting tendencies of both sexes vary with the characteristics of traits presented as an imprinting stimuli. Tendency to imprint may vary with the perceived information content (e.g., kin, sex, or population indicator) of parental traits, a process dubbed selective sexual imprinting.
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Vol. 60 • No. 5