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Social structure affects mating competition in a damselfish

Abstract

The strength of mating competition and sexual selection varies over space and time in many animals. Such variation is typically driven by ecological and demographic factors, including adult sex ratio and consequent availability of mates. The spatial scale at which demographic factors affect mating competition and sexual selection may vary but is not often investigated. Here, we analyse variation in size and sex ratio of social groups, and how group structure affects mating competition, in the site-attached damselfish Chrysiptera cyanea. Site-attached reef fishes are known to show extensive intraspecific variation in social structure. Previous work has focused on species for which the size and dynamics of social groups are constrained by habitat, whereas species with group structure unconstrained by habitat have received little attention. Chrysiptera cyanea is such a species, with individuals occurring in spatial clusters that varied widely in size and sex ratio. Typically, only one male defended a nest in multi-male groups. Nest-holding males were frequently visited by mate-searching females, with more visits in groups with more females, suggesting that courtship and mating mostly occur within groups and that male mating success depends on the number of females in the group. Male–male aggression was frequent in multi-male groups but absent in single-male groups. These findings demonstrate that groups are distinct social units. In consequence, the dynamics of mating and reproduction are mainly a result of group structure, largely unaffected short term by overall population demography which would be important in open social systems. Future studies of the C. cyanea model system should analyse longer-term dynamics, including how groups are formed, how they vary in relation to density and time of season and how social structure affects sexual selection.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Charlotte Taplin and Leon Green for excellent assistance with field work and the managers and staff of Lizard Island Research Station for generous support. This work was supported by a grant from the FRIFORSK program of the Research Council of Norway (Grant Number 191271) to T.A.

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Correspondence to Sebastian Wacker.

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Wacker, S., Ness, M.H., Östlund-Nilsson, S. et al. Social structure affects mating competition in a damselfish. Coral Reefs 36, 1279–1289 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1623-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1623-4

Keywords

  • Social structure
  • Sexual selection
  • Mating competition
  • Damselfish
  • Reef fish
  • Chrysiptera cyanea