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Mate choice, fecundity and sexual dimorphism in two pipefish species (Syngnathidae)

Summary

In order to understand the causes of sexual dimorphism, mate choice and size-related fecundity were studied in two pipefish species, Syngnathus typhle and Nerophis ophidion. Sexual dimorphism is more pronounced in N. ophidion; females are larger, have sexual colourings, and are more active during courtship. In S. typhle the sexes are alike in all these respects. Males brood their offspring in both species. In N. ophidion fecundity was positively correlated with both body size and the amount of sexual colouring in females. In males no correlation between body size and fecundity, or between body size and embryo size existed. Predictably, in mate choice experiments with equal-sized females, males chose females with more extensive sexual colourings. We explain sexual dimorphism in this species as a consequence of both natural selection (fecundity increases with size in females but not in males) and sexual selection (males prefer larger females). We argue that sexual size dimorphism did not evolve by selection minimizing overlap in food niches between the sexes, because food production is high in the Zostera beds where the fishes live, and no size dimorphism was found in the sympatrically occurring S. typhle. Furthermore, in N. ophidion dimorphism is not greater in a particular mouth character than in overall body size. In S. typhle egg size and the average number of eggs transferred per spawning were positively correlated with female body size. Apparently more energy per offspring was provided by larger males than by smaller males, and larger males also carried more offspring. As predicted, large mates were preferred by both sexes in mate choice experiments. This is explicable in terms of both natural selection (fecundity increases with size in both sexes) and sexual selection (both sexes prefer large mates). As a consequence of selection acting in the same direction in both sexes, sexual dimorphism is absent in S. typhle.

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Berglund, A., Rosenqvist, G. & Svensson, I. Mate choice, fecundity and sexual dimorphism in two pipefish species (Syngnathidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 19, 301–307 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00300646

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Keywords

  • Body Size
  • Sexual Selection
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • Mate Choice
  • Large Male