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Alternative male mating tactics in a cichlid, Pelvicachromis pulcher: a comparison of reproductive effort and success


Pelvicachromis pulcher is a small African cichlid which breeds in holes. Males may either reproduce monogamously (pair males), polygynously (harem males), or be tolerated as helpers in a harem territory (satellite males). These helpers share in defence of the territory against conspecifics, heterospecific competitors and predators. There are two male colour morphs that are fixed for life and are apparently genetically determined. These differ in their potential mating strategy. Red morph males may become harem owners, while yellow morph males may become satellite males, and males of both morphs may alternatively pair up monogamously. We compared the reproductive effort and success of these three male reproductive strategies. Effort was measured as attack rates, time expenditure and the risk of being injured or killed when attacking competitors or predators of three sympatric fish species. Reproductive success was measured by observing how many eggs were fertilized by each male when this was possible, and by using genetic markers. The number of fry surviving to independence of parental care was used as a criterion of success. The reproductive success of harem males was 3.3 times higher than that of pair males and 7 times higher than that of the average satellite male. Dominant satellite males, however, were as successful as monogamous pair males, using the measure of fertilized eggs. To our knowledge, this has not been found previously in any fish species. Both harem and pair males had lower parental defence costs per sired offspring, however, than males using the alternative satellite tactic. Defence effort was significantly related to the risk of injury.

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Received: 17 January 1996 / Accepted after revision: 9 June 1997

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Martin, E., Taborsky, M. Alternative male mating tactics in a cichlid, Pelvicachromis pulcher: a comparison of reproductive effort and success. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 41, 311–319 (1997).

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  • Key words Alternative mating tactics
  • Cichlids
  • Reproductive effort/success
  • Genetic markers