Feeding efficiency and food competition in coexisting sexual and asexual livebearing fishes of the genus Poecilia

Abstract

Considering its immediate costs of producing dispensable males, the maintenance of sexual reproduction is a major paradox in evolutionary biology. Asexual lineages that do not face such costs theoretically should replace sexuals over time. Nonetheless, several systems are known in which closely related sexual and asexual lineages stably coexist. In the present study, we studied a sexual/asexual mating complex of a sperm-dependent parthenogenetic fish (amazon molly, Poecilia formosa) and its sexual congeners, the sailfin molly P. latipinna and the Atlantic molly P. mexicana. We asked whether differences in feeding behavior could contribute to their stable coexistence. We conducted a laboratory experiment to compare feeding efficiencies and also measured the competitive abilities between the two reproductive forms. Additionally, we measured gut fullness of fishes caught in natural habitats. Contrary to our predictions, we could not find P. formosa to be less efficient in feeding. We argue that food competition in mollies plays a minor role in mediating coexistence between closely related asexual and sexual mollies.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments. Furthermore, we would like to thank Christian Kaufman (Texas A&M University) and Ingo Schlupp (University of Oklahoma) for their help in field, and Kirk Winemiller (Texas A&M University) for kindly providing laboratory facilities. M. Ziege kindly provided the drawings of a sailfin and an amazon molly. Financial support came from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Society for Ichthyology (to KS), the DFG (PL 470/3-1) and the Herrmann-Willkomm-Foundation (to MP), as well as the Swiss National Science Foundation (to MT). The Mexican government (DGOPA.06192.240608-1562) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department kindly issued permits (SPR-1008-340).

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Correspondence to Kristin Scharnweber.

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Scharnweber, K., Plath, M. & Tobler, M. Feeding efficiency and food competition in coexisting sexual and asexual livebearing fishes of the genus Poecilia . Environ Biol Fish 90, 197–205 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-010-9732-8

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Keywords

  • Aggressive interactions
  • Competition
  • Evolution of sex
  • Foraging
  • Gynogenesis