It’s the smell, silly, not the looks

March 18th, 2009 - 4:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 18 (IANS) Female mammals are likely to follow their noses to the right mate, according to the latest study on the subject.
Lab studies of olfactory signalling may provide the best evidence for female mate choice in mammals. Unlike birds, many mammal species are sexually active at night.

So mammals may be less inclined than birds to base preferences on visual cues. Instead, females of many mammalian species may be more likely to choose males using olfactory cues.

Research has shown that female mammals commonly investigate scent marks left by males. Females also show a preference to mate with males who scent mark more frequently.

Just what can a female learn about a male through his scent? Plenty, said Cambridge zoologist Tim Clutton-Brock and Harvard researcher Katherine McAuliffe.

Recent studies have shown that mammalian females use scent to pick out genetically dissimilar males. Parents with dissimilar genes in a certain part of the genome tend to produce healthier offspring.

So male mammals advertise their genotype via scent, and females pick up the signal and preferentially mate with dissimilar males. This ability to sniff out a good genetic match has been found in mice and humans.

Other studies of several rodent species have found that females dislike odours of males who are infected with parasites, and may avoid mating with them. Since resistance to parasites is often a genetic trait, choosing a parasite-free mate may be beneficial to offspring, said a Cambridge University release.

Study of olfactory mating cues is still in its infancy, Clutton-Brock and McAuliffe said. But they believe that this line of research will continue to reveal much about mammalian mate choice.

These findings were published in the March issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology.

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