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Operational Sex Ratios in Seahorses

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Contrary to all expectations based on their male pregnancy, recent work shows that seahorses exhibit conventional sex roles in mating competition: male seahorses compete more to obtain eggs than females do to give their eggs away. This suggests that the operational sex ratio (OSR: the relative number of males and females available to mate) might be male-biased despite the length and limitations of male pregnancy. I here report a study of a laboratory population of the Sri Lankan seahorse Hippocampus fuscus. The OSR amongst mated seahorses is unbiased because males and females effectively have equal reproductive rates, although some evidence suggests that a female may have limited potential for a higher reproductive rate than her partner. In contrast, the OSR among mate-seeking seahorses is male-biased, because unmated (empty) males can prepare to mate more quickly and can remain ready to mate for longer than can unmated females. Thus, the OSR is male-biased in exactly that segment of the population which should compete for mates. These findings are compatible with the sexually monogamous mating pattern of many seahorse species.

Affiliations: 1: (Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Down-ing St., Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

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