Multiple paternity in the cooperatively breeding fish Neolamprologus pulcher

  • P. Dierkes
  • M. TaborskyEmail author
  • R. Achmann
Original Paper


In cooperative breeders, mature males may compete for fertilizations. In this study, we measured the degree of multiple paternity in a natural population of a cooperatively breeding fish. Neolamprologus pulcher (Perciformes: Cichlidae) is a highly social cichlid endemic to Lake Tanganyika. We used highly variable microsatellite loci to survey 12 groups with an average number of 10.6 brood care helpers per group and a total of 43 offspring (mean 3.6 per brood). In 11 of 12 groups, all young were assigned to the dominant female. The dominant male sired all offspring in three groups, part of the offspring in four groups, and in five groups, he had no paternity at all. In total, 44.2% of young were not fathered by the current male territory owner. Multiple paternity was found in 5 of 12 broods (41.7 %), with 8 of 35 young (22.9 %) being sired by males other than the respective territory owners. This is an exceptionally high rate of extra-pair paternity among cooperatively breeding vertebrates. Neither helpers present in these territories during collection nor neighbouring males were unequivocally assigned to have sired these extra-pair young. However, behavioural observations suggest that male helpers may have produced these young before being expelled from the territory in response to this reproductive parasitism. We discuss these results in the light of reproductive skew theory, cooperative breeding in vertebrates and alternative reproductive tactics in fish.


Parentage Microsatellites Cichlids Lake Tanganyika Alternative mating tactics 



We would like to thank Matthias Müller and Gottfried Brem for providing lab facilities. Andrea Kunz assisted in the field. Dolores Schütz, Gudrun Pachler and Sigal Balshine-Earn contributed by numerous discussions. Special thanks to Eva Skubic and Dik Heg for discussion, help and constructive comments on the manuscript. The work was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF: project P10916-BIO) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF: project 3100A0-105626). This study complies with the current laws of Zambia, Austria and Switzerland.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Konrad Lorenz Institut für Vergleichende VerhaltensforschungViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Behavioural Ecology, Institute of ZoologyUniversity of BerneHinterkappelen/BernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Cyto-, Immuno- and Molecular Genetic ResearchUniversity of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria

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