Precopulatory behavior and sexual conflict in the desert locust


Abstract

Studies of mating and reproductive behavior have contributed much to our understanding of various animals' ecological success. The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, is an important agricultural pest. However, knowledge of locust courtship and precopulatory behavior is surprisingly limited. Here we provide a comprehensive study of the precopulatory behavior of both sexes of the desert locust in the gregarious phase, with particular emphasis on the conflict between the sexes. Detailed HD-video monitoring of courtship and mating of 20 locust pairs, in a controlled environment, enabled both qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the behavior. A comprehensive list of behavioral elements was used to generate an eight-step ethogram, depicting from first encounter between the sexes to actual copulation. Further analyses included the probability of each element occurring, and a kinematic diagram based on a transitional matrix. Eleven novel behavioral elements are described in this study, and two potential points of conflict between the sexes are identified. Locust sexual interaction was characterized by the dominance of the males during the pre-mounting stage, and an overall stereotypic male courtship behavior. In contrast, females displayed no clear courtship-related behavior and an overall less organized behavioral sequence. Central elements in the sexual behavior of the females were low-amplitude hind-leg vibration, as well as rejecting males by jumping and kicking. Intricate reciprocal interactions between the sexes were evident mostly at the mounting stage. The reported findings contribute important insights to our knowledge of locust mating and reproductive behavior, and may assist in confronting this devastating agricultural pest.
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