Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 45–70

Alloparental care in fishes


  • Brian D. Wisenden
    • Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Alberta

DOI: 10.1023/A:1008865801329

Cite this article as:
Wisenden, B.D. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries (1999) 9: 45. doi:10.1023/A:1008865801329


Alloparental care, care directed at non-descendant young, presents a potential challenge to evolutionary ecologists because investment in non-descendant eggs and young gives the appearance of maladaptive behaviour. Yet wherever there is parental care in fishes, there is usually alloparental care. As such, alloparental care is an integral part of care in fishes. Alloparental care appears to have arisen independently many times in disparate taxa. The chief reason for this is the low cost of care, relative to homeotherms, both in terms of low post-zygotic investment to nourish young, and low risk of predation to the parent during brood defence. In some cases, alloparenting is misdirected parental care and maladaptive. A celebrated example of brood parasitism in fish is that of the catfish Synodontis multipunctatus, which parasitizes broods of mouthbrooding cichlids. Previously unpublished data on the reproductive biology of S. multipunctatus are reported here. However, in the majority of cases, particularly for the widespread phenomena of zygote dumping (nest associates) in the Cyprinidae and adoption of non-descendant free-swimming young in brood-guarding Cichlidae, alloparental care is a mutualistic relationship maintained by natural selection. This review describes broad patterns of known examples of alloparental care, the pathways to adoption, and highlights the ways in which alloparents derive fitness benefits. By caring for non-descendant young, an alloparent may benefit by one or more of the following phenomena: acquisition of mates, confusion effect, dilution effect, selfish herd effect, selfish shepherd effect, kin selection, and reciprocal altruism. Although the breadth and diversity of examples of alloparental care in fishes is growing, to date, these accounts have been largely descriptive. Future research should be directed at careful documentation of the fitness consequences for both donor and alloparent. These are the data that are needed to fully understand the evolutionary underpinnings of alloparental care, and by extension, parental care.

adoptionalloparental carebrood parasitismfishmutualism

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999