Response of territorial males to the threat of sneaking in the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus): a field study


*S. C. Le Comber. E-mail:


Alternative mating tactics are found in many species, and may have important implications for population genetics and speciation. The existence of such alternative mating tactics is well-documented in the three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, and sneaking and egg-stealing may occur in a significant proportion of matings under natural conditions. Sneaking can impose high costs on territorial males, both in terms of reduced reproductive output and caring for unrelated offspring. We ask whether territorial males adjust their behaviour in response to the risk of sneaking. In a field study of three-spined sticklebacks on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, territorial males were presented with glass bottles containing either a male, a female or neither, to address whether territorial males were more aggressive to other males in the presence of a female, and whether territorial males courted females less in the presence of another male. Behavioural observations showed that territorial males did not behave more aggressively towards rival males in the presence of a female, but did reduce their rate of courtship towards females in the presence of rival males. We conclude that territorial males adopt behavioural strategies that may reduce their risk of reproductive parasitism.