Mate

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Mate

See More About:    Volt        Bwl Kitchen        Well Copper        
los cuentos de mate en español la luz fantasma

The mating game: a classroom activity for undergraduates that explores the evolutionary basis of sex roles.

College students are intimately aware that males and females differ
in sexual behavior, but most have never considered the evolutionary
basis of sex roles in Homo sapiens or other animals. Understanding why
males and females typically employ different mating strategies is
necessary for grasping key concepts in animal behavior, including sexual
selection, sexual conflict, mating systems, and parental care (Kokko
& Jennions, 2008). We developed an active-learning exercise to
simulate how differences in parental investment, beginning with gamete
size, shape reproductive behavior. By playing "the mating
game," students gain a visceral experience that they can reference
when thinking about more advanced topics in animal behavior.

Males, by definition, produce many small gametes and usually
provide little or no care to their offspring. Females, by contrast,
produce fewer, larger gametes, and when offspring receive parental care,
it is typically provided by the mother. Because females generally invest
more resources per offspring than males and can produce a limited number
of gametes, females usually have a lower potential reproductive rate
(Trivers, 1972). This means that more males than females are available
to mate at any given time (i.e., the operational sex ratio is
male-biased). As a result, males tend to compete for sexually receptive
females, whereas females can choose among males, using criteria such as
mate quality or material donations. The causal relationship between
parental investment and mating strategy is supported by cases of
"sex role reversal"; for example, when males provide more
parental care, females compete for mates and males choose (Gwynne,
1991).

* Activity

We begin by asking students what makes a male a male and a female a
female. This question captures students' attention because they are
familiar with characteristics of males and females but not the most
basic definitions of the sexes: males produce smaller gametes, or sperm,
and females produce larger gametes, or eggs (Randerson & Hurst,
2001).

We then distribute a set of paper "gametes" to all
students. Half of the students represent females; they receive four
large gametes (1/4th sheet of paper each). The other half represent
males; they receive 48 small gametes (1/48th sheet of paper each).
Gametes are assigned irrespective of students' gender; this
emphasizes that students are merely playing roles in the game and that
the decisions they make in the simulation have no connection to the
choices they make in their lives. Each gamete is labeled with a unique
letter that identifies the parent and with a "quality score"
for that parent (1 to 5, with 5 indicating the highest quality; Table
1). The quality scores should approximate a normal distribution, with
most students being assigned intermediate scores and only a few
receiving extreme scores. (Gametes and other materials are available for
download at https://sites.google.com/site/ theclassroommatinggame.)

In addition to gametes, each student receives a headband indicating
his or her sex and quality score. We provide long strips of construction
paper and binder clips to secure the strips around their heads. Males
and females receive different color headbands (e.g., pink for females
and blue for males), and each individual's quality score is
signified by the number of large black dots on the front of his or her
headband, so that the students can quickly and easily assess the sex and
quality of their classmates.

When prompted by the instructor, students mingle around a
designated "breeding area" and "mate" with their
classmates (Figure 1). A successful mating takes place when a male and
female agree to mate and the female takes one sperm from the male and
pairs it with one of her eggs. After each mating, the female must carry
the pair of gametes outside of the breeding area to the instructor, who
sums the quality scores of the male and female to determine the
"reproductive success points" earned by each parent from that
mating. The objective for each student is to maximize the total number
of reproductive success points earned during the game. The same male and
female can mate multiple times, but only one egg can be fertilized at a
time (i.e., females can accept only one sperm per mating event). Males
remain in the breeding area and are free to mate again as soon as they
have passed their gametes to a female. When nearly all females have used
all of their eggs, usually after a few minutes, the instructor declares
that "mating season is over," after which no more
fertilizations can take place.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

To facilitate data entry and instant discussion of the results, we
created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that requires the instructor to
enter just the identities of the mated male and female during the game
(e.g., "B" and "T"). With this information, the
spreadsheet automatically calculates the number of matings and the total
reproductive success points earned by each student. It also generates
four plots showing the number of matings and the total reproductive
success points earned by each individual, separated by sex (Figure 2;
spreadsheet available at https://sites.google.com/site/
theclassroommatinggame).

We discuss the Excel plots as a class. First, the students
characterize the data presented in each graph, paying special attention
to the range on the y-axis and the variation among individuals on the
x-axis (Figure 2). Then we ask a high- and a low-quality individual from
each sex to describe their experience. What was their mating strategy?
Did it work? Was it hard for them to get a mate? Was there anyone they
would not agree to mate with? Students typically have no trouble
articulating the appropriate reproductive strategy for an individual of
their sex and quality and justifying their answer. Sometimes,
individuals or groups develop alternative strategies that can be
discussed. For example, we have seen males form a lek, attempt to
disguise their quality, and act as "sneakers" to obtain mates.
If time permits, we ask students to think about scenarios that might
cause them to alter their strategy. For example, what if assessing the
quality of a potential mate takes time (and is not as easy or reliable
as simply counting dots on a hat)? What if females had to walk a mile to
deliver their gametes to the instructor, rather than just across the
room?

At this point, we introduce the terms parental investment and
operational sex ratio. To formalize the relationship between parental
investment, operational sex ratio, and sex roles, we ask students to
choose the right words to complete a conceptual flowchart (Figure 3;
adapted from Alcock, 2001).

Finally, we present a test of the theory of sex differences: if
females usually choose among mates because they invest more per
offspring and, thus, have a lower potential reproductive rate, what
happens in species in which males make the larger parental investment
and/or have the lower potential reproductive rate? We introduce the
pipefish Nerophis ophidion. In this species, a female deposits her eggs
on the ventral surface of a male, and the male cares for the embryos
until independent young emerge several weeks later. Males have a lower
potential reproductive rate in this species because one female can
impregnate two males during the time of one male pregnancy (Vincent et
al., 1992). As predicted, males are choosier than females (Rosenqvist,
1990; Berglund & Rosenqvist, 1993). When given a choice between
females, males show a strong preference for larger females, which are
more fecund (Rosenqvist, 1990). Females, by contrast, do not demonstrate
a preference for large males (Berglund & Rosenqvist, 1993) and
compete among each other for mates (Rosenqvist, 1990).

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

* Conclusion

Active-learning methods can enhance understanding and retention in
undergraduate science courses (Handelsman et al., 2007). Our students
report that the mating game is a fun, effective, and memorable
demonstration of the evolutionary forces that shape mating strategies.
Thus, it is an excellent springboard for exploring more advanced topics
in reproductive behavior that build upon the underlying concept of sex
differences. For example, the mating game introduces mate
"quality" but does not specify characteristics that make a
male more valuable to a female. Referring back to the game, ask students
to brainstorm potential benefits a female might receive from mating with
a high-quality male. This list can be used to launch a discussion of
intersexual selection. Similarly, the students' experience with the
mating game can carry over into lessons about intrasexual selection,
honest signaling, sexual conflict, parental care, and mating systems.
The parameters of the game can also be modified and/or expanded to
address these themes through subsequent iterations, or for a more basic
treatment of reproductive behavior in an introductory biology course.

In our experience, students have participated enthusiastically in
the game. In surveys, no student has ever reported feeling awkward or
uncomfortable during the simulation. Of course, any activity that deals
with sex has the potential to become sensitive. Instructors should be
prepared to discuss that human behavior, though sculpted by evolution,
is more immediately shaped by social and cultural forces. We recommend
that this activity be used only with advanced high school or college
students who possess the maturity to handle these topics.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2012.74.9.9

* Acknowledgments

We thank Shelley Haydel, Ron Rutowski, Valerie Stout, Melissah
Rowe, Mike Butler, and the students in their Scientific Teaching course
for help in developing this activity; Nicola Plowes for allowing us to
test it in her Animal Behavior class; and two anonymous reviewers for
their comments on the manuscript.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

References

Alcock, J. (2001). Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach, 7th
Ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Berglund, A. & Rosenqvist, G. (1993). Selective males and
ardent females in pipefishes. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 32,
331-336.

Gwynne, D.T. (1991). Sexual competition among females: what causes
courtship-role reversal? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 6, 118-121.

Handelsman, J., Miller, S. & Pfund, C. (2007). Scientific
Teaching. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Kokko, H. & Jennions, M.D. (2008). Parental investment, sexual
selection and sex ratios. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 21, 919-948.

Randerson, J.P. & Hurst, L.D. (2001). The uncertain evolution
of the sexes. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 16, 571-579.

Rosenqvist, G. (1990). Male mate choice and female-female
competition for mates in the pipefish Nerophis ophidion.Animal
Behaviour, 39, 1110-1115.

Trivers, R.L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In
B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man 1871-1971
(pp. 136-179). Chicago, IL: Aldine-Atherton.

Vincent, A., Ahnesjo, I., Berglund, A. & Rosenqvist, G. (1992).
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DANI MOORE (dani.moore@asu.edu) is a doctoral student in Life
Sciences at Arizona State University, PO Box 874601, Tempe, AZ
85287-4601. C. TATE HOLBROOK (holbrook.c@lynchburg.edu) is Visiting
Assistant Professor of Biology at Lynchburg College, 1501 Lakeside Dr.,
Lynchburg, VA 24501. MELISSA G. MEADOWS
(melissa.meadows@uni-tuebingen.de) is a postdoctoral fellow at
Universitat Tubingen, Institut fur Evolution und Okologie, 72076
Tubingen, Germany. LISA A. TAYLOR (lat57@pitt.edu) is a postdoctoral
fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, 4249 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
15260.

Table 1. Distribution of quality scores and
identification letters for a class of 18 students.

                  Number of   Female     Number     Male
Quality   Score    Females      ID      of Males     ID

High        5         1          A         1          R
            4         2        B, C        2        S, T
            3         3       D, E, F      3       U, V, W
            2         2        G, H        2        X, Y
Low         1         1          I         1          Z

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