Dehydrated males are less likely to dive into the mating pool

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Behavioral Ecology


The hydration state of animals vying for reproductive success may have implications for the tempo and mode of sexual selection, which may be salient in populations that experience increasing environmental fluctuations in water availability. Using red-sided garter snakes as a model system, we tested the effect of water supplementation on courtship, mating behavior, and copulatory plug (CP) production during a drought year. Over 3 days of mating trials, water-supplemented males (WET males, n = 45) outperformed a control group that was not supplemented with water (DRY males, n = 45). Over 70% of WET males mated but just 33% of DRY males did so. As a group, WET males mated 79 times versus 28 times by DRY males. On the last day of mating trials, over 70% of WET males were still courting, with 19 of them mating, whereas less than 25% of DRY males were courting and only one mated. CP deposition accounted for 4-6% of the mass lost by mating males, but hydration did not affect CP mass or water content. These findings suggest that, in years of low water availability, the number of courting males and the intensity of their courtship declines, thereby affecting sexual selection and conflict, at least within that year.

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