The smooth (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Carpathian (L. montandoni) newts are sister species. These are separated by a moderate genetic distance, but exhibit striking morphological differences, especially in male epigamic traits. In the areas where they co-occur, they readily mate with each other and produce viable hybrids. However, a high level of pre-zygotic isolation with an unknown behavioral basis has been reported. The complex courtship of newts consists of at least three types of modality: chemical, visual, and tactile. The relative significance of these in mate choice is unclear, but it is commonly accepted that pheromones are an important communication channel. The goal of this study was to determine whether the females of L. vulgaris and L. montandoni exhibit preferences for conspecific extracts from the pheromone-producing abdominal (dorsal) glands. Females of both species spent more time in proximity to the source of the abdominal gland extracts of their own species when a liver extract was presented as an alternative. In a second trial, females were simultaneously confronted with conspecific and heterospecific abdominal gland extracts. Asymmetric preferences were found. Lissotriton vulgaris females were not selective, whereas L. montandoni females preferred the conspecific abdominal gland extract. This finding is consistent with the results of earlier experiments on mate choice in these species. The results strongly indicate that pheromones play a crucial role in courtship and species recognition in this pair of closely related, hybridizing species.
Vol. 29 • No. 6
Vol. 29 • No. 6
asymmetric pre-zygotic isolation