, Volume 14, Issue 2-3, pp 175-183

Allopaternal care in the tessellated darter, Etheostoma olmstedi (Pisces: Percidae)

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Synopsis

Large male tessellated darters, Etheostoma olmstedi, defend flat-bottomed rocks, the undersides of which serve as spawning substrates. Because females attach eggs directly onto bare stone, a spawning bout necessarily decreases the surface area available for further breeding at a nest. In apparent response to the female preference of ovipositing on rocks with the most bare surface, fathers abandon nests with their attached offspring to search for rocks with more uncovered surface. Egg abandonment also results after roving fathers intercept and spawn with ripe females and remain at a different rock to care for a new clutch. In essence, large males appear to maximize the number of eggs they fertilize by sequentially monopolizing breeding patches that are temporarily most desirable to females. The costs to a father of abandoning his eggs appear to be low for two reasons: (1) non-territorial males, created by a scarcity of suitable rocks, readily occupy vacant nests, and clean and aerate the abandoned eggs; and (2) after water hardening, eggs are less vulnerable to cannibalism. The maintenance of eggs by nonparental males may be both incidental to scrubbing the ceiling for their own breeding and adaptive in that viable eggs stimulate females to spawn; neither would appear to involve parental investment costs. Thus, allopaternal care in the tessellated darter may have evolved because it is performed in the selfish pursuit of spawning opportunities while entailing little, if any, of the costs normally subsumed within parental investment.