Mating puzzle resolved

Published: Monday 30 November 1992

-- ZOOLOGISTS have always wondered why the females of two African antelope species repeatedly mated with only certain males. A further clue was provided by James Deutsch and Rory Nefdt of Cambridge University who discovered female antelopes always chose mates who occupied certain territories in the mating grounds. The researchers then shifted the top soil and dead grass from the favoured spots to neglected areas and found the number of matings on the previously ignored territories increased by a factor of 10, indicating females were guided by smell (Nature, Vol 356 No 6370). Surprisingly, the fragrance that attracted the females did not originate from the males and researchers believe it is from a component of female urine that collects on the territories.

One reason why females adopt this approach to mate selection may be because by following other females, they can find competitive and able partners who are capable of fighting for and defending their own territories.

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