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Femme Fatale - the Case of the Threespine Stickleback

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Abstract

In addition to courting females, male threespine sticklebacks must guard their nests from attacks on the eggs by female cannibals. We hypothesized that the presence of females in high densities in tide pools adversely affects a male's health and reproductive success. In the laboratory males housed with conspecific females during the breeding season were in poorer physical condition and died sooner than solitary males and males housed with conspecific males or with heterospecific females.

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... Sticklebacks show intriguing responses to social stress whereby neighboring conspecifics modify the behavior and energetic status of nesting males. Mature males housed with neighboring females have reduced numbers of successful breeding cycles and die prematurely (de Fraipont et al. 1992). In this " femme fatale " effect, males that reared their fertilized eggs in visual, olfactory, and auditory contact with a reproductively mature female were not able to successfully brood more than one clutch of eggs before dying, whereas males that were housed with another mature male and males that were housed alone successfully reared at least two additional clutches. ...
... In this " femme fatale " effect, males that reared their fertilized eggs in visual, olfactory, and auditory contact with a reproductively mature female were not able to successfully brood more than one clutch of eggs before dying, whereas males that were housed with another mature male and males that were housed alone successfully reared at least two additional clutches. De Fraipont et al. (1992) interpreted the premature death of the parental males housed with females as being due to the stress caused by the females. The presence of a male rival also has a negative effect on mature male sticklebacks. ...
... Nonbreeding males tended to show higher cortisol levels when housed with rival males than when alone. In designing our study, we chose to characterize the physiological and metabolic status of focal males after one breeding cycle because the demonstration of the " femme fatale " effect showed that most males housed with a mature female could only complete one breeding cycle, that not all undertook additional cycles, and that most died within a little over 1 mo after starting the first breeding cycle (de Fraipont et al. 1992). Furthermore, male sticklebacks invest most heavily in their initial breeding cycle (de Fraipont et al. 1994; Smith and Wootton 1995). ...
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... Cost of reproduction for males may be especially high for fishes where males provide all the parental care and exhibit all the territorial defense (van den Assem, 1967;Fitzgerald et al., 1989;De-Fraipont et al, 1992;Baker, 1994). This can result in higher levels of stress and reduced immunocompetence in males relative to females (Herbert and Cohen, 1993). ...
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To examine the reproductive costs of territoriality, male threespine sticklebacks were divided into two treatments: competitive and solitary. Relative to solitary males, competitive males had longer and fewer brood cycles, higher rates of energy expenditure per brood cycle, higher motivation to court additional females in the first brood cycle, and lower amounts of parental care during the first brood cycle. Thus territoriality in this species seems to effect the tradeoff between present versus future reproduction, and within present reproduction, the tradeoff between quantity versus quality of offspring.
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Hidden reproductive costs in the threespined stickleback
  • Fitzgerald