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Variation in the Mating System of a Biparental Cichlid Fish, Cichlasoma Panamense

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Cichlasoma panamense is a biparental, substrate-spawning cichlid which breeds during the dry season in Panamanian streams. In one population some males helped to defend their offspring throughout the period of parental care but many deserted their mates to achieve additional spawnings leaving females to guard alone. The proportion of C. panamense guarding in pairs increased throughout the breeding season. This was associated with an increase in the rate with which parental cichlids attacked potential brood predators and an increase in brood size. The increase in attack rate was due to the crowding of fishes as water levels receded during the dry season and especially to the increasing numbers of newly independent cichlids which congregated in the shallow water areas where C. panamense brood. The sex ratio in the population was strongly biased towards females. Males spent more time away from the brood than females which enabled them to find and spawn with unmated females. The attack rate of females brooding alone was not significantly higher than that of those with mates and their foraging rate not significantly lower although they spent less time away from their brood. In a more productive stream where population density was high, breeding was almost entirely in monogamous pairs. The rate at which parents attacked potential predators was higher, the sex ratio was 1:1 and brood size was large. The male's decision to guard or desert appears to depend on his opportunities for further matings, the ability of the female to guard alone and the value of a current brood. These results agree with the predictions of game theory models of parental care.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, Dyfed, Wales, U.K.)

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