• cuckoldry;
  • evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS);
  • maternity;
  • mating tactics;
  • microsatellite;
  • paternity


In nest-building fish species, mature males often exhibit one of two alternative reproductive behaviours. Bourgeois males build nests, court females, and guard their eggs. Parasitic cuckolders attempt to steal fertilizations from bourgeois males and do not invest in parental care. Previous evidence from the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) suggests that adult males are morphologically specialized for these two tactics. Here, we used microsatellite markers to determine genetic parentage in a natural population of the spotted sunfish (L. punctatus) that also displayed both bourgeois and parasitic male morphs. As gauged by relative investments in gonadal vs. somatic tissues, between 5 and 15% of the mature adult males were parasites. Multi-locus genotypes were generated for more than 1400 embryos in 30 nests, their nest-guardian males, and for other adults in the population. Progeny in approximately 57% of the nests were sired exclusively by the guardian male, but the remaining nests contained embryos resulting from cuckoldry as well. Overall, the frequency of offspring resulting from stolen fertilizations was only 1.3%, indicating that the great majority of paternity is by bourgeois nesting males. With regard to maternity, 87% of the nests had at least three dams, and computer simulations estimate that about 7.2 dams spawned per nest.