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Interactions of natural and sexual selection: damselfish prioritize brood defense with male–male competition or courtship

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Natural and sexual selection often act in opposing directions, forcing individuals to prioritize activities necessary for survival with those required for reproduction. We examined the interaction of natural and sexual selection pressures on the behaviour of beaugregory damselfish, Stegastes leucostictus, by presenting territorial males with an egg predator and either a male or female conspecific, requiring males to prioritize brood defense with either courtship or intra-sexual competition. By measuring the time spent near stimuli, we examined the influence of several factors, including stimuli type, variation in predator number, and the presence of eggs in a nest site. Generally, males spent more time with conspecific stimuli than egg predators, suggesting that the sexual selection pressures of deterring rivals and attracting mates outweigh the natural selection pressure to engage in brood defense. This decision was affected by the sex of the conspecific presented, the presence of eggs in a male's territory, and a number of interactions of these factors, indicating that male damselfish consider multiple factors before investing in certain types and intensities of behaviours. Furthermore, observations of behaviours associated with courtship and intrasexual aggression show that a natural selection pressure impacts intra- and inter-sexually selected behaviours differently in this system.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, USA, Order of authorship decided by a game of poker;, Email:; 2: Order of authorship decided by a game of poker; 3: Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, USA


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