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Chemically-mediated sexual display postures in pre-ovulatory female topmouth gudgeon, Pseudorasbora parva

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image of Behaviour

While mating systems vary considerably throughout the animal kingdom, smell is increasingly recognised as a common factor in successful copulation. However, the full range of olfactory- induced mating behaviours among animals is undoubtedly underestimated in comparison to visual or contact stimuli, and this underestimation suggests that our understanding of courtship rituals may be incomplete. Here, we use the highly invasive topmouth gudgeon, Pseudorasbora parva as a biological model to separate and validate the induction of headstands as courtship behaviour in many fish species. Conspecific odour was isolated using solid phase extraction (SPE) and fractionated using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Active fractions were characterised using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Electrophysiological responses of pre-ovulatory females to conspecific odour were also tested via the electro-olfactogram (EOG). Results revealed that pre-ovulatory females adopted headstand body postures during exposure to nest guarding male odour (4/12) and SPE extract (5/12) but did not display during exposure to any other odour. Fractions from HPLC yielded 1 active fraction that induced headstand body postures in pre-ovulatory females (4/12). The active fraction eluted at 30–35 min and showed no response in the UV. NMR imaging revealed low intensity levels of aliphatic protons: methylene protons (CH2) at around 2 parts per million (ppm) and methin (CH) at around 3 ppm. EOG response amplitudes were approximately double in response to pre-ovulatory female odour than to odour derived from post-ovulatory females (Mann–Whitney U-test, p < 0 . 01 , N = 6 ). This study provides evidence of sex-specific chemical cues and responsive, adaptive sexual behaviour in P. parva and demonstrates that female display postures may be induced by chemical stimuli alone.

Affiliations: 1: cCentro de Ciências do Mar, Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal; 2: bCardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Biomedical Sciences Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, Wales, UK; 3: aBournemouth School of Conservation Science, Christchurch House, Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB, UK


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