Visual Background Choice and Light Environment Affect Male Guppy Visual Contrast

John A. Endler, Dara-Marie Raggay, Solomon Maerowitz-McMahan, David N. Reznick, Rebecca C. Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Male guppies (Poecilia reticulata) have multiple colored spots and perform courtship displays near the edges of streams in Trinidad in shallow water flowing through rainforest. Depending upon the orientation of the pair, the female sees the male displays against gravel or other stream bed substrates or against the spacelight—the roughly uniform light coming from the water column away from the bank. We observed courting pairs in two adjacent natural streams and noted the directions of each male display. We found that the female sees the male more often against spacelight than against gravel when females either faced the spacelight from the opposite bank or from downstream, or both. Visual modelling using natural substrate reflectances and field light measurements showed higher chromatic contrast of males against spacelight than against substrates independent of the two ambient light environments used during displays, but achromatic contrast depended upon the ambient light habitat. This suggests that courtship involves both chromatic and achromatic contrast. We conclude that the orientation of courting pairs and the ambient light spectrum should be accounted for in studies of mate choice, because the visual background and light affect visibility, and these differ with orientation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number56
JournalVision (Switzerland)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • mate choice
  • achromatic contrast
  • chromatic contrast
  • background choice
  • orientation
  • visual backgrounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management


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