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Plasticity in reproductive behaviour in two populations of the peacock blenny

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In the peacock blenny (Salaria pavo) the reproductive behaviour is described to vary between two populations that differ in nest availability. At the Gulf of Trieste (GT), Italy, where nest availability is high, conventional sex roles are present and males adopting an alternative parasitic reproductive tactic are rare. Conversely, at Ria Formosa (RF), Portugal, where nest site availability is low, females are the courting sex and a high percentage of parasitic males occur. Laboratory experiments were used to study the degree of plasticity of the reproductive behaviours used by females and by the two male morphs in both populations. Nesting males were sequentially presented with a female and a female-like parasitic male and the reproductive behaviours of all fish were quantified. Under similar laboratory conditions, nesting males from both populations did not differ in sexual or agonistic displays towards females or parasitic males, showing that males from the sex-reversed population are also able to express significant levels of courtship. In contrast, females followed the typical population pattern, with females from RF courting nesting males more and more readily than females from GT. We hypothesised that apparent differences in behavioural plasticity between nesting males and females were a consequence of the perception of the presence of eggs in the nest. Nesting males from both populations received an empty nest during test trials and, thus, had to court females in order to receive a first spawn. On the other hand, females were probably unaware of the presence or absence of eggs when presented to the nesting male and assumed the population typical courtship profile. Interestingly, the parasitic males’ behaviour towards the nesting male closely followed the displays of females from their own population; parasitic males from RF courted the nesting male with a high frequency of female-like displays while parasitic males from GT failed to exhibit female-like courtship behaviour. Taken together, the results suggest that S. pavo presents high levels of plasticity in reproductive behaviours and that these may underlie the interpopulation differences in behaviour reported for the species. Additionally, the results also suggest that the parasitic male reproductive tactic at GT is not based on female-mimicry.

Affiliations: 1: 3Unidade de Morfogénese e Reparação de Tecidos, Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Edificio Egas Moniz, P3B35, Av Prof Egas Moniz, 1649-028 Lisboa, Portugal


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