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The Effects of Rival Male Interaction On Courtship and Parental Care in the Fourspine Stickleback, Apeltes Quadracus

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Rival male interruptions in aggregate breeders are often responsible for prolonged courtship and reduced spawning success. This study was conducted to examine the effects of rival male interference on courtship and parental care in the relatively nonaggressive, vegetation-nesting fourspine stickleback, Apeltes quadracus. Specifically, the timing of seven sequential courtship behavior patterns was recorded and the intervals between them were calculated in both rival and solitary male situations. Time to first nest attention after spawning, time from trial start to first nest approach by the female, and overall courtship length were also scored. Of the seven courtship intervals only one, that between the female's first push into the nest and Iher entry, took significantly longer in the presence of a rival male. Overall, courtship duration was only marginally longer in rival versus solitary situations. The effects of rival male interference were most pronounced in post-courtship nest attention. Males took longer to begin post-spawning nest repairs in the presence of a rival male than when alone. In addition, limited nest attention is probably the cause of reduced hatching success in rival male tanks although reduced care due to uncertain paternity cannot be ruled out. The lack of difference in courtship duration between rival and solitary treatments is probably due to two factors: (1) females were introduced in glass jars five minutes prior to trial start during which time they seemed to form a distinct preference for one male; (2) fourspine stickleback males use female mimicry to sneak over to neighbors' nests and rarely attempt to enter the nest until after the female has spawned and left. Future research on sneaking in the fourspine stickleback should include DNA fingerprinting of offspring to determine paternity in nests fertilized by both the owner and a sneaker(s).

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 72701, USA; 2: Department of Biology, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA


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