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Changes in Female Breeding Behaviour Across the Ovulatory Cycle in the Brook Stickleback, Culaea Inconstans (Kirtland)

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In this paper I investigate the changes in female Culaea inconstans behaviour at different stages of the ovulatory cycle in response to the presentation of a courting male and an ovulated female intruder. These experiments reveal that female brook sticklebacks display a complex repertoire of behaviours including all of the threat displays commonly described for male gasterosteids. On spawning days, females direct more nudges, bites, broadside displays, head down displays and redirected bites towards an intruding female, and spend more time engaged in hovering, ground head-up courtship, and near, an intruding male. The interspawning interval in females is accompanied by a surge of aggression towards males. In essence, females show a fluctuation in behavioural intensities that mirrors their ovulatory cycle when interacting with males, but show no such cycling during interactions with other females. At the population level female behaviour is thus more predictable when the intruder is a male than when the intruder is another female. At the individual level, however, a female's responses to another female are tightly correlated across her breeding cycle. Aggressive fish spend more time near the intruding female and less time in the plants on all days of their spawning cycle than their less aggressive counterparts, who displayed a strong tendency to flee, S-displaying either during the retreat or from the safety of the plants. Correlations between behaviours are more susceptible to underlying ovulatorty cycle when the intruder is a male. Aggressive fish spend more time near the intruding male only during the interspawning interval.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1 and Royal Ontario Museum, Department of Ichthyology and Herpetology, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C6


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