Female control of paternity by spawning site choice in a cooperatively polyandrous cichlid

in Behaviour
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Multiple mating of females is widespread, and females often obtain direct and/or indirect benefits by mating with multiple males. However, female control of multiple paternity broods is usually only possible in internally fertilising animals with complex reproductive systems including cryptic female choice. Here we present direct evidence that a cooperative polyandrous cichlid fish with external fertilisation, Julidochromis transcriptus, uses environmental factors to manipulate male access to, and therefore paternity of, their egg clutches. Polyandrous females receive more paternal investment from both of large alpha males and small beta males than monogamous females. We used a ‘step nest’ design, in which large alpha males and small beta males were restricted to the wide and narrow nest areas respectively, and found that when kept in polyandrous trios, females laid their egg clutches exactly at the borderline between the two regions each male could access. In contrast, females in pairs laid their clutches in either the wide or narrow area depending on the size of their mating partner. Our results demonstrate that polyandrous females carefully choose egg deposition site, increasing the direct benefits they receive from mating partners by using environmental structures to manipulate paternity. In this way, externally fertilising J. transcriptus manipulate male behaviour in a manner similar to cryptic female choice in internally fertilising animals.

Female control of paternity by spawning site choice in a cooperatively polyandrous cichlid

in Behaviour



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    Setup of the experiment using cooperatively polyandrous cichlid Julidochromis transcriptus. (a) Pairs or polyandrous trios (a large alpha male, small beta male and a female) access to both a step nest and an open nest. Note that the alpha males cannot enter narrow area of the step nest and cannot nest compartment. A trio is shown. (b) Schematic of the step nest with a clutch attached. Dotted line is the borderline between narrow area and wide area. The clutch size (egg number) and clutch position (midpoint, cm), the distance from the borderline were determined for each clutch.

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    Time spent in nests by fish in trio and pairs of J. transcriptus. (a) Percentage of time spent in step nests or open nests, and (b) narrow area and wide area in step nest. Average (dot) and SE.  p<0.05, ∗∗ p<0.01, a p<0.1. NS (p>0.1) is not shown.

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    Number of step nest and open nest females chose for their first clutch in pairs with alpha male (N=12), in pairs with beta males (N=11) and in trio (N=10).

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    Median (horizontal line), range and 75% of samples (box) of clutch position of the first spawning in trio (N=10) and two types of pair with alpha males (N=7) and with beta males (N=7). Positive values indicate distance in wide area, and negative values in narrow area of step nests from dashed line at 0, the borderline between narrow area and wide area, respectively.


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