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Divergence of male courtship displays between sympatric forms of anadromous threespine stickleback

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Courtship displays are an important component of animal reproduction, and divergence in these displays can play an integral role in promoting or maintaining reproductive isolation between species. The courtship behaviour of the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) has been extensively characterized. In Japan, there are two lineages of threespine stickleback that are genetically differentiated and reproductively isolated when found in regions of sympatry. We have previously shown that males of the Pacific Ocean lineage perform the zig-zag dance, while sympatric males of the Japan Sea lineage perform a different dance, which we have termed the rolling dance (Kitano et al., 2007, Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 91: 671-685). As a first step towards understanding the role of the courtship display in female mate choice and sexual isolation between this sympatric pair, we conducted a more detailed analysis of divergence between the courtship displays of the Pacific Ocean and Japan Sea males. Kinematic analysis revealed that the tempo of the zig-zag dance is two times faster than the tempo of the rolling dance. A detailed analysis of head movements during the courtship dance revealed that the Japan Sea males erect their gill covers, extend their red throats, and open their mouths more frequently during the rolling dance than the Pacific Ocean males do during the zig-zag dance. These results demonstrate that there is extensive divergence between sympatric Pacific Ocean and Japan Sea males in both the motor patterns and the tempo of their courtship displays. Thus, the Japanese sympatric stickleback pair provides a good system to study the role of courtship behaviour in speciation, as well as the genetic mechanisms that underlie the divergence of kinematics and motor patterns in courtship behaviour.

Affiliations: 1: Division of Human Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109, USA; 2: Biological Laboratory, Gifu-keizai University, Ogaki, Gifu 503-8550, Japan

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