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Selective males and ardent females in pipefishes

Summary

In the pipefishes Syngnathus typhle and Nerophis ophidion, males have been shown to limit female reproductive rate, and females to compete for access to males. Hence, these species fit the criteria for sex-role reversal. Males brood the eggs and provide the offspring with nutrients, oxygen and an osmoregulated environment. Moreover, in S. typhle both sexes prefer a larger mate when given a choice. Sexual selection theory predicts that males should be more “choosy” than females, and that was experimentally demonstrated in this study. We predicted that S. typhle males should be less eager to copulate than S. typhle females with an unattractive (i.e. small) mate. We measured eagerness as the time from the start of the experiment until copulation occurred. Males with unattractive partners took significantly longer to copulate than females with unattractive partners. Moreover, females invariably initiated the courtship dance, and resumed it quicker after copulation than did the males, again suggesting “reproductive hesitation” in males. Neither male nor female size per se was correlated with time until copulation. In N. ophidion, where we have previously shown that males prefer larger to smaller females, we found that females did not select males with regard to size. Our results are consistent both with earlier findings (males limit female reproduction and females compete for males) and with operational sex ratios in nature: in seven annual field samples in June, the numbers of S. typhle females with ripe eggs always significantly exceeded numbers of receptive males. Hence, the potential cost of being choosy in terms of lost matings is much higher in females than in males. In conclusion, S. typhle females were somewhat choosy, but less so than males, whereas N. ophidion females were not choosy at all.

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Correspondence to: A. Berglund

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Berglund, A., Rosenqvist, G. Selective males and ardent females in pipefishes. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 32, 331–336 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00183788

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Keywords

  • Sexual Selection
  • Reproductive Rate
  • Selection Theory
  • Female Size
  • Large Mate