, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 787-801

Different Carotenoids and Potential Information Content of Red Coloration of Male Three-Spined Stickleback

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Female sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) use the red coloration of males as a criterion for mate choice. Redder males are more attractive. However, males often differ not only in the intensity of their coloration (from dull to bright red) but also in color quality (from yellowish to purple-red). We investigated whether the red coloration of the stickleback is actually a multiple signal made by several pigments. We kept wild caught males singly in tanks until they had built a nest and were ready to accept females. Then, we took standard photographs and measured their colors by spectrometer analyses of the slides and by descriptions of human observers. These two measurements were highly correlated. When analyzing the carotenoid content of the sticklebacks' skin we found two groups of carotenoids (astaxanthin and tunaxanthin/lutein) that were quantified for each individual. The differences in color observed in the fish are correlated to this pigment quantification. Redder fish have more astaxanthin in their skin than yellowish fish, while the color of the yellowish fish appears to be made by tunaxanthin/lutein. Our results suggest that the red coloration of sticklebacks is a multiple trait that is made of at least two different carotenoids. This opens the possibility that male sticklebacks signal more detailed information to females than a one-dimensional trait would allow.