Dataset for: Preference for conspecifics evolves earlier in males than females in a sexually dimorphic radiation of fishes

Speciation by sexual selection is generally modeled as the co-evolution of female preferences and elaborate male ornaments leading to behavioral (sexual) reproductive isolation. One prediction of these models is that female preference for conspecific males should evolve earlier than male preference for conspecific females in sexually dimorphic species with male ornaments. We tested that prediction in darters, a diverse group of freshwater fishes with sexually dimorphic ornamentation. Focusing on the earliest stages of divergence, we tested preference for conspecific mates in males and females of seven closely related species pairs. Contrary to expectation, male preference for conspecific females was significantly greater than female preference for conspecific males. Males in four of the fourteen species significantly preferred conspecific females; whereas, females in no species significantly preferred conspecific males. Relationships between the strength of preference for conspecifics and genetic distance revealed no difference in slope between males and females but a significant difference in intercept, also suggesting that male preference evolves earlier than females’. Our results are consistent with other recent studies in darters and suggest that the co-evolution of female preferences and male ornaments may not best explain the earliest stages of behavioral isolation in this lineage.