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Electric communication during courtship and spawning in two sibling species of dwarf stonebasher from southern Africa, Pollimyrus castelnaui and P. marianne (Mormyridae, Teleostei): evidence for a non species-specific communication code?

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The fixed part of the electrocommunication signal, the electric organ discharge (EOD) waveform, is well differentiated in the two vicariant dwarf stonebasher species, Pollimyrus castelnaui and P. marianne. However, differentiation regarding the variable, situation-dependent part, i.e., inter-discharge interval (IDI) patterns, has never been studied in a pair of sibling species of mormyrid fish. We here compare the electrical signalling that accompanies different motor behaviours (such as resting and swimming, territorial agonistic interactions, courtship and spawning) in the two species. Double pulse patterns of regularly alternating short IDIs of 8-11 ms and long ones of 16-100 ms accompanied threat displays in both species. In three pairs of P. marianne and five pairs of P. castelnaui, courtship was characterised by nest building, territory patrolling and acoustic displays (advertisment calls) that were accompanied by long discharge breaks in the male and highly regular IDIs around 50 ms in the female of both species. Nest-tending males showed IDI sequences consisting of regularly alternating double pulse patterns, similar to threat displays. During spawning both sexes generated stereotyped IDI sequences of a low discharge rate. All IDI patterns occurring in one species were also found in the other, and no species-specifity was identified at that level. Playback experiments contrasting conspecific and heterospecific IDI sequences (that had been recorded from nocturnally swimming fish) revealed preferences in none of the six experimental subjects. Double pulse patterns, high discharge rate displays (HD) and regularisations of the IDI sequence accompanying specific behaviours occurred in similar form in both dwarf stonebasher species of the present study. Therefore, we conclude that in the speciation of P. castelnaui and P. marianne the fixed part of the EOD, its waveform, was under more differential selection pressure than its variable part, the patterns of IDI.

Affiliations: 1: Zoological Institute of the University of Regensburg, Universitätsstraße 31, 93040 Regensburg, Germany


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