Chemosensory in Swordtails

Numerous experiments have shown that female swordtails attend to stimulus water produced by males visually exposed to females. Females tend to prefer conspecific olfactory cues; these olfactory cues are also known to "override" heterospecific visual cues that females would otherwise prefer.

Olfactory communication is sensitive to the signaling environment; females in contaminated water fail to discriminate conspecifics from heterospecifics, resulting in hybridization. Further, females prefer chemical cues of well fed males, and this preference is itself sensitive to female nutritional state.

In order to understand how chemical communication has evolved and how chemical information interacts with environmental factors, we are trying to characterize the chemistry of male olfactory cues. In collaboration with the Sorenson lab, we plan to use solid phase extraction (SPE) combined with behavioral and electroolfactogram techniques to disentangle the chemical nature and biological function of swordtail courtship pheromones.


  1. G.G. Rosenthal, J.N. Fitzsimmons, K.K. Woods, G. Gerlach and H.S. Fisher, 2011. Tactical release of a sexually-selected pheromone in a swordtail fish. PLoS One 6:e16994. [PDF]