In many taxa, parental strategies can vary among individuals. This is especially true in species with biparental care, with males, more often than females, deserting their mates. While there is an abundance of theoretical predictions and empirical data on factors inducing mate abandonment by males, much less is known about what consequences this may have on female behaviour, particularly in the field and in non-avian systems. Here, we compared brood defence rate, behavioural defence types, and brood success of solitary and paired females in two species of Neotropical cichlid fish in their natural habitat. In terms of the rate of territorial aggression towards potential brood predators, solitary females were able to fully compensate in the absence of a male but, in so doing, ended up maintaining smaller territories, which appeared to compromise offspring fitness in at least one of the two species. Hence, our results suggest that even extensive quantitative compensation in parental effort by solitary females may not be enough to ensure adequate qualitative compensation for the lack of male participation, highlighting the importance of distinguishing between these two aspects of compensatory parental care.
Mate desertion Midas cichlid species complex Offspring survival Parental care Qualitative care compensation Territorial aggression
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