, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 81-87

Predation risk affects courtship and attractiveness of competing threespine stickleback males

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The effect of predation risk and male-male competition on male courtship behaviour and attractiveness to females was studied in the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) by presenting dummy or live females to solitary and competing males under different predation risks. In the presence of a predator, males decreased courtship activity. Different courtship components were, however, adjusted to different extents and in opposing directions to predation risk, probably because the single components may have varied in riskiness. The presence of a competing male decreased overall courtship activity, but increased the frequency of zigzags, suggesting zigzagging to be a competitive strategy against other males. In the presence of a predator male courtship activity was not affected by a competitor. Female mate choice correlated with the males' previous frequency of zigzags towards a dummy female. However, when a live female paid attention to a male, the male decreased zigzagging and instead increased leading and fanning behaviours, probably trying to attract the female to the nest to mate. Predation risk affected the attractiveness of males as females reduced their attention to a male when he faced a predator and reduced his courtship activity. As females instead increased their attention to a competing male that had increased his courtship activity, due to decreased competition, males clearly are balancing mating opportunities against predator avoidance. When males vary in their susceptibility to predators, predation risk may thus affect mating success of competing males.

Received: 31 January 1997 / Accepted after revision: 15 April 1997