Monogamous pair bonds and mate switching in the Western Australian seahorse Hippocampus subelongatus


CharlottaKvarnemo Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel.: +46-8-164046; fax: +46-8-167715; e-mail:


Apparently monogamous animals often prove, upon genetic inspection, to mate polygamously. Seahorse males provide care in a brood pouch. An earlier genetic study of the Western Australian seahorse demonstrated that males mate with only one female for each particular brood. Here we investigate whether males remain monogamous in sequential pregnancies during a breeding season. In a natural population we tagged males and sampled young from two successive broods of 14 males. Microsatellite analyses of parentage revealed that eight males re-mated with the same female, and six with a new female. Thus, in this first study to document long-term genetic monogamy in a seahorse, we show that switches of mates still occur. Polygynous males moved greater distances between broods, and tended to have longer interbrood intervals, than monogamous males, suggesting substantial costs associated with the breaking of pair bonds which may explain the high degree of social monogamy in this fish genus.