A matter of time: delayed mate encounter postpones mating window initiation and reduces the strength of female choosiness
Reproductive success is determined by the presence and timing of encounter of mates. The latter depends on species-specific reproductive characteristics (e.g. initiation/duration of the mating window), season, and reproductive strategies (e.g. intensity of choosiness) that may potentially mitigate constraints imposed by mating windows. Despite their potentially crucial role for fitness and population dynamics, limited evidence exists about mating window initiation, duration and reproductive strategies. Here, we experimentally tested the mechanisms of initiation and the duration of the common lizard's Zootoca vivipara mating window, by manipulating the timing of mate encounter and analyzing its effect on (re-)mating probability. We furthermore tested treatment effects on female reproductive strategies, by measuring female choosiness. The timing of mate encounter and season did not significantly affect mating probability. However, a longer delay until mate encounter reduced female choosiness. Re-mating probability decreased with re-mating delay and was independent of mating delay. This indicates that mating window initiation depends on mate encounter, that its duration is fixed, and that plastic reproductive strategies exist. These findings contrast with previous beliefs and shows that mating windows per se may not necessarily constrain reproductive success, which is congruent with rapid range expansion and absence of positive density-effects on reproductive success (Allee effects). In summary, our results show that predicting the effect of mating windows on reproduction is complex and that experimental evidence is essential for evaluating their effect on reproduction and reproductive strategies, both being important determinants of population dynamics and the colonization of new habitats.