Effects of social experience on pair bonding in a monogamous fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

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For species in which individuals spend at least some time in groups, dominance relationships and various social cues are often important for mate assessment and choice. For pair bonding species, social experiences may affect reproductive decisions in both sexes. We tested whether prior experience in a mixed-sex group and having a higher dominance status coincides with faster pair formation or spawning in a monogamous fish. Individuals having prior experience in mixed-sex groups paired with a novel fish more frequently than fish from same-sex groups. Fish in mixed-sex groups performed more bites and lateral displays. Although spawning occurred infrequently across pairs, dominant fish from mixed-sex groups spawned more than dominant fish from same-sex groups. Otherwise, there were no clear behavioural relationships between treatment group and subsequent pair formation or spawning, nor were behaviours of the paired fishes related to their prior treatment group. We do not know how mixed-sex social experience may have affected the physiology of those individuals, although our results support a reproductive priming effect.

Effects of social experience on pair bonding in a monogamous fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

in Behaviour



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    Experimental design used to create the three treatment social groups. Arrows indicate which individuals were removed and paired with a novel fish after 48 h of group treatment.

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    Behaviours within social treatment groups. Individuals received a mixed sex (black lines), or same sex (males: light gray lines; females: dark grey lines) social treatment over three days. (a) No groups differed on day 1, but MS fish bit more than the other groups on days 2 and 3. (b) Chases were least frequent on day 1, and SSM individuals chased more overall than MS but not SSF individuals. (c) No groups differed on day 1, but more lateral displays occurred in the MS group than the SSF group on days 2 and 3. (d) Fewer frontal displays were observed in the SSF group compared to the MS, but not the SSM group. Data points show means ± SE.

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    Sex differences in behaviour within the mixed-sex social treatment. The third day of MS group observations were used to assess patterns according to the sex of the individual performing the behaviour and the sex of the individual that the behaviour was targeted towards (M, male; F, female). Labels underneath each bar represent the sex of the fish performing the behaviour followed by the sex of the target individual (e.g., M–F indicates male performed behaviour towards a female target). (a) More intra-sexual chases occurred than inter-sexual chases. (b) More bites occurred between males than in any other group. (c) Lateral displays did not differ based on the sex of the performer or target individual. Bars show means ± SE. Those with unshared letters are significantly different from one another.

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    Behaviours within assigned pairs. The behaviours of both the treatment fish ((a)–(d)) and novel partner ((e)–(h)) were examined for each pair in order to see how the treated fish’ dominance status and prior social treatment affected each partner (MSM, mixed-sex males; MSF, mixed-sex females; SSM, same-sex males; SSF, same-sex females). (a) Dominance status and prior social treatment had no effect on the amount treatment fish chased their novel partners, (e) or on how much novel partners chased their treated partner. (b) Males from the SSM group bit their partners more than females from the MSF or SSF groups, but (f) novel fish showed no difference in biting behaviour. (c) Frontal displays towards novel partners, and (g) treated partners did not differ. (d) Lateral displays towards novel partners, and (h) treated partners did not differ. Data points show means ± SE.

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    Pair bonding and reproduction within assigned pairs. Pairs were assessed for pair bond formation and reproduction in order to see if prior social treatment or dominance status of the treatment fish would facilitate or accelerate these behaviors. (a) Pairs were given 48 hr before being assessed for pair bond formation while in the presence of an intruder. A total of 56 out of 80 pairs formed pair bonds. Individuals from the mixed sex group formed pair bonds more often than those from a single sex social treatment. (b) Pairs were given 5 days to reproduce. A total of 17 out of 80 pairs laid eggs. Dominant fish from the mixed sex group reproduced more than those from the single sex group.


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