Anogenital Distance Predicts Female Choice and Male Potency In Prairie Voles

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Physiology and Behavior

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Anogenital distance (AGD) in rodents is a useful indicator of masculinization or feminization due to prenatal hormonal effects. If such cues convey useful information about both ‘maleness’ and more importantly mate quality, then females may select males based on this cue or other cues related to it. We tested this hypothesis by asking if female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) preferred males with relatively longer AGDs and if AGD correlated with fitness enhancing characteristics such as sperm count, sperm size, and gonad size. Not only did preferred males have significantly longer AGD and larger testes than nonpreferred males, but AGD was directly related to the testes size, seminal vesicle size, and the number of sperm stored. We re-evaluated data collected in semi-natural field enclosures and discovered that males that were members of a pairbond had longer AGD than single males. This later result, taken under semi-natural conditions, was consistent with results we obtained in the laboratory. Taken together these data indicate that AGD serves as a useful cue of male potency and that females preferentially associate with males that demonstrate this masculinized phenotype. Moreover, these data imply that females may select mates based on their potential to effectively fertilize ova, a potentially important trait for a species that forms life-long pairbonds.

Funding Source

The research presented is described in and approved by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) of the University of Florida, project number D289. Portions of his study were supported by NSF grants 0316631 & 0316451.


This article was originally published as Ophir, A.G. and delBarco-Trillo, J. (2007) Anogenital distance predicts female choice and male potency in prairie voles. Physiology & Behavior. 92: 533-540.