acta ethologica

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 189–194 | Cite as

Female mate choice is not affected by mate condition in a fish with male care

  • Josefin Sundin
  • Gry Sagebakken
  • Charlotta Kvarnemo
Short Communication


Several studies have shown that mate choice based on condition leads to higher reproductive success of the choosing individual. Yet, a growing body of literature has failed to find support for mate choice based on mate condition, even when the choosing individual would clearly benefit from such a choice. This indicates that animals’ mate choice is often more complex than currently appreciated and that even well-founded expected preferences cannot be taken for granted. Using the broad-nosed pipefish, Syngnathus typhle, we manipulated male condition experimentally to explore whether it affects female mate choice. In this sex-role-reversed species, males care for the offspring in a specialised brood pouch. Males are the choosier sex, but given the opportunity, females are selective as well. During brooding, males can both provide embryos with nutrients and take up nutrients that originate from eggs deposited in the pouch, and embryo survival correlates positively with male condition. Together, this suggests that it would be beneficial for females to mate with males in high condition. However, we found no female preference for males in better condition. Thus, this study adds to the literature of mate choice that is unaffected by mate condition. Possible reasons for our result are discussed.


Condition dependence Female choice Inter-sexual selection Paternal care Syngnathidae 



This work was funded by the University of Gothenburg (JS, GS) and the Swedish Research Council (CK). We thank Ingrid Ahnesjö, Inês Braga Gonçalves, Iris Duranovic and Patricia Wecker for help in the field, Anders Berglund and Gunilla Rosenqvist for equipment and Malte Andersson and two anonymous reviewers for comments. Thanks to the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences, Kristineberg, for facilities and support. The experiment was approved by the Ethical Committee for Animal Research in Gothenburg (licence number 112–2007).


  1. Albert JS, Crampton WGR (2006) Electroreception and electrogenesis. In: Evans DH, Claiborne JB (eds) The physiology of fishes, 3rd edn. CRC Press, London, pp 429–470Google Scholar
  2. Andersson M (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  3. Archard GA, Cuthill IC, Partridge JC (2006) Condition-dependent mate choice in the guppy: a role for short-term food restriction? Behaviour 143:1317–1340. doi: 10.1163/156853906778987515 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bakker TCM, Kunzler R, Mazzi D (1999) Sexual selection—condition-related mate choice in sticklebacks. Nature 401:234–234. doi: 10.1038/45727 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ballentine B, Hill GE (2003) Female mate choice in relation to structural plumage coloration in Blue Grosbeaks. Condor 105:593–598. doi: 10.1650/7234 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bateson P (1983) Mate choice. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Berglund A (1994) The operational sex-ratio influences choosiness in a pipefish. Behav Ecol 5:254–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berglund A, Rosenqvist G, Svensson I (1986a) Reversed sex-roles and parental energy investment in zygotes of 2 pipefish (Syngnathidae) species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 29:209–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berglund A, Rosenqvist G, Svensson I (1986b) Mate choice, fecundity and sexual dimorphism in 2 pipefish species (Syngnathidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 19:301–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berglund A, Widemo MS, Rosenqvist G (2005) Sex-role reversal revisited: choosy females and ornamented, competitive males in a pipefish. Behav Ecol 16:649–655. doi: 10.1093/beheco/ari038 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bradbury JW, Andersson MB (1987) Sexual selection: testing the alternatives. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Braga Goncalves I (2010) Egg size evolution and paternal care in pipefishes. Dissertation, University of GothenburgGoogle Scholar
  13. Braga Goncalves I, Mobley KB, Ahnesjö I, Sagebakken G, Jones AG, Kvarnemo C (2010) Reproductive compensation in broad-nosed pipefish females. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 277:1581–1587. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.2290 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Candolin U (2000) Changes in expression and honesty of sexual signalling over the reproductive lifetime of sticklebacks. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B-Biol Sci 267:2425–2430. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1301 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coleman SW (2009) Taxonomic and sensory biases in the mate-choice literature: there are far too few studies of chemical and multimodal communication. Acta Ethologica 12:45–48. doi: 10.1007/s10211-008-0050-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Darwin C (1871) The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. J. Murray, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fisher HS, Rosenthal GG (2006) Hungry females show stronger mating preferences. Behav Ecol 17:979–981. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arl038 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Giaquinto PC (2010) Female pintado catfish choose well-fed males. Behaviour 147:319–332. doi: 10.1163/000579509x12535339073761 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Giaquinto PC, da Silva Berbert CM, Delicio HC (2010) Female preferences based on male nutritional chemical traits. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64:1029–1035. doi: 10.1007/s00265-010-0918-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grafen A (1990) Biological signals as handicaps. J Theor Biol 144:517–546. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5193(05)80088-8 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hebets EA, Wesson J, Shamble PS (2008) Diet influences mate choice selectivity in adult female wolf spiders. Anim Behav 76:355–363. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.12.021 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Herdman EJE, Kelly CD, Godin JGJ (2004) Male mate choice in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata): do males prefer larger females as mates? Ethology 110:97–111. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2003.00960.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hill GE (1990) Female house finches prefer colorful males—sexual selection for a condition-dependent trait. Anim Behav 40:563–572. doi: 10.1016/s0003-3472(05)80537-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holveck MJ, Riebel K (2010) Low-quality females prefer low-quality males when choosing a mate. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 277:153–160. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1222 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hunt J, Brooks R, Jennions MD (2005) Female mate choice as a condition-dependent life-history trait. Am Nat 166:79–92. doi: 10.1086/430672 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hunt J, Brooks R, Jennions MD, Smith MJ, Bentsen CL, Bussiere LF (2004) High-quality male field crickets invest heavily in sexual display but die young. Nature 432:1024–1027. doi: 10.1038/nature03084 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jennions MD, Petrie M (1997) Variation in mate choice and mating preferences: a review of causes and consequences. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 72:283–327. doi: 10.1017/s0006323196005014 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnstone RA (1995) Sexual selection, honest advertisement and the handicap principle—reviewing the evidence. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 70:1–65. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.1995.tb01439.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kodric-Brown A, Brown JH (1984) Truth in advertising—the kinds of traits favored by sexual selection. Am Nat 124:309–323. doi: 10.1086/284275 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kurvers R, Delhey K, Roberts ML, Peters A (2010) No consistent female preference for higher crown UV reflectance in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus: a mate choice experiment. Ibis 152:393–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kvarnemo C, Mobley KB, Partridge C, Jones AG, Ahnesjö I (2011) Evidence of paternal nutrient provisioning to embryos in broad-nosed pipefish Syngnathus typhle. J Fish Biol 78:1725–1737. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2011.02989.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lailvaux SP, Irschick DJ (2006) No evidence for female association with high-performance males in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis. Ethology 112:707–715. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2006.01210.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. LeBas NR, Marshall NJ (2001) No evidence of female choice for a condition-dependent trait in the agamid lizard, Ctenophorus ornatus. Behaviour 138:965–980. doi: 10.1163/156853901753286515 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Liu M, Siefferman L, Hill GE (2007) An experimental test of female choice relative to male structural coloration in eastern bluebirds. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:623–630. doi: 10.1007/s00265-006-0292-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Olsson M (2001) No female mate choice in Mallee dragon lizards, Ctenophorus fordi. Evol Ecol 15:129–141. doi: 10.1023/a:1013865624146 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters A, Kurvers R, Roberts ML, Delhey K (2011) No evidence for general condition-dependence of structural plumage colour in blue tits: an experiment. J Evol Biol 24:976–987. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02229.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ripley JL, Foran CM (2007) Influence of estuarine hypoxia on feeding and sound production by two sympatric pipefish species (Syngnathidae). Mar Environ Res 63:350–367. doi: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2006.10.003 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ripley JL, Foran CM (2009) Direct evidence for embryonic uptake of paternally-derived nutrients in two pipefishes (Syngnathidae: Syngnathus spp.). J Comp Physiol B 179:325–333. doi: 10.1007/s00360-008-0316-2 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosenqvist G, Johansson K (1995) Male avoidance of parasitized females explained by direct benefits in a pipefish. Anim Behav 49:1039–1045. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1995.0133 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rosenqvist G, Berglund A (2011) Sexual signals and mating patterns in Syngnathidae. J Fish Biol 78:1647–1661. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2011.02972.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sagebakken G, Ahnesjö I, Mobley KB, Braga Goncalves I, Kvarnemo C (2010) Brooding fathers, not siblings, take up nutrients from embryos. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 277:971–977. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1767 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sagebakken G (2012) Parental care and brood reduction in a pipefish. Dissertation, Gothenburg UniversityGoogle Scholar
  43. Sandvik M, Rosenqvist G, Berglund A (2000) Male and female mate choice affects offspring quality in a sex-role-reversed pipefish. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B-Biol Sci 267:2151–2155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shelly TE, Edu J, Pahio E (2007) Condition-dependent mating success in male fruit flies: ingestion of a pheromone precursor compensates for a low-quality diet. J Insect Behav 20:347–365. doi: 10.1007/s10905-007-9082-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Svensson O, Forsgren E (2003) Male mating success in relation to food availability in the common goby. J Fish Biol 62:1217–1221. doi: 10.1046/j.1095-8649.2003.00088.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Svensson O, Nyman A, Kvarnemo C (2004) Costly courtship or dishonest display? Intensely displaying sand goby males have lower lipid content. J Fish Biol 64:1425–1429. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2004.00381.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Takakura K (2001) Courtship-role-reversal in the bean weevil, Bruchidius dorsalis (Coleoptera: Bruchidae): interplay between male–male competition and cryptic female choice. Appl Entomol Zool 36:311–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vasquez T, Pfennig KS (2007) Looking on the bright side: females prefer coloration indicative of male size and condition in the sexually dichromatic spadefoot toad, Scaphiopus couchii. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:127–135. doi: 10.1007/s00265-007-0446-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Weber DM, Millar JS, Neff BD (2007) Male reproductive success and female preference in bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea): do females prefer males in good physical condition? Can Zool 85:169–176. doi: 10.1139/z06-206 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Widemo MS (2003) Mutual mate choice in the deep snouted pipefish Syngnathus typhle. Dissertation, Uppsala University Google Scholar
  51. Wong BBM, Candolin U, Lindström K (2007) Environmental deterioration compromises socially enforced signals of male quality in three-spined sticklebacks. Am Nat 170:184–189PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zahavi A (1975) Mate selection—selection for a handicap. J Theor Biol 53:205–214. doi: 10.1016/0022-5193(75)90111-3 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg and ISPA 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Josefin Sundin
    • 1
  • Gry Sagebakken
    • 2
  • Charlotta Kvarnemo
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Animal Ecology, Department of Ecology and GeneticsUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Department of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden
  3. 3.Environmental and Marine Biology, Department of BiosciencesÅbo Akademi UniversityTurkuFinland

Personalised recommendations