Competition and cuckoldry: estimating fitness of alternative reproductive tactics in plainfin midshipman

in Behaviour
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There has been much debate about how male alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs) evolve. In particular, researchers question whether ARTs have evolved as a conditional, ‘best of a bad job’ strategy where one tactic has higher fitness than the other, or whether they have evolved as a result of a genetic polymorphism where both tactics have equal fitness. Despite the large number of species known to have ARTs, tests of equal fitness between tactics have only been conducted in a handful of species. We tested the prediction of equal fitness using the plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus), a species with two well characterized male ARTs: guarding type I males and cuckolding type II males. We collected data across three years and three sampling locations to determine the proportion of each reproductive tactic, as well as the proportion of offspring sired by each male type using microsatellite markers. Our analysis suggests that males adopting the conventional guarding tactic likely have higher fitness compared to males adopting the cuckolder type II tactic. Also, we show that the guarding male tactic is able to gain paternity through cuckoldry, and that these males, who sometimes guard and sometimes cuckold, are responsible for the majority of paternity lost within nests. Indeed, the classic cuckolding type II males were responsible for only a small fraction of the paternity lost. These results highlight the degree of flexibility in male behaviour even among individuals adopting the same male tactic. Taken together, our results provide the first exploration of the evolution of male ARTs in plainfin midshipman and, given the tractability of midshipman system, a valuable next step will be to look for gene-by-environment interactions on tactic development and expression.



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  • Estimates of the relative fitness of alternative reproductive tactics in plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus). Shown are the mean relative fitness (±1SD, dot and vertical line) for type I males given high (all unknown sires as type I), proportional (85% of unknown sires as type I), and low (all unknown sires as type II) scenarios (see text for details). The violin plots show the frequency histograms of the distribution of data from the Monte Carlo analyses. The width of the violin plots are an outcome of re-sampling the data and applying equation (1). Data are bounded between zero and one when type I males have lower fitness, while there is no upper bound in the equation when type I males have higher fitness. The solid horizontal line depicts equal fitness (=1) between type I and type II males. The y-axis is a log scale to better depict the ratio data.

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