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Chemical signals from eggs facilitate cryptic female choice in humans

Fitzpatrick, John L and Willis, Charlotte and Devigili, Alessandro and Young, Amy and Carroll, Michael and Hunter, Helen R and Brison, Daniel R (2020) Chemical signals from eggs facilitate cryptic female choice in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 287 (1928). p. 20200805. ISSN 0962-8452

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Abstract

Mate choice can continue after mating via chemical communication between the female reproductive system and sperm. While there is a growing appreciation that females can bias sperm use and paternity by exerting cryptic female choice for preferred males, we know surprisingly little about the mechanisms underlying these post-mating choices. In particular, whether chemical signals released from eggs (chemoattractants) allow females to exert cryptic female choice to favour sperm from specific males remains an open question, particularly in species (including humans) where adults exercise pre-mating mate choice. Here, we adapt a classic dichotomous mate choice assay to the microscopic scale to assess gamete-mediated mate choice in humans. We examined how sperm respond to follicular fluid, a source of human sperm chemoattractants, from either their partner or a non-partner female when experiencing a simultaneous or non-simultaneous choice between follicular fluids. We report robust evidence under these two distinct experimental conditions that follicular fluid from different females consistently and differentially attracts sperm from specific males. This chemoattractant-moderated choice of sperm offers eggs an avenue to exercise independent mate preference. Indeed, gamete-mediated mate choice did not reinforce pre-mating human mate choice decisions. Our results demonstrate that chemoattractants facilitate gamete-mediated mate choice in humans, which offers females the opportunity to exert cryptic female choice for sperm from specific males.

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