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Environmental Effects on Male Reproductive Success and Parental Care in the Florida Flagfish Jordanella floridae


C. M. St Mary, Department of Zoology, 223 Bartram Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-8525, USA. E-mail:


Models of optimal parental care predict that parental investment should depend on offspring value or the effect parental care has on offspring benefits. Few studies have examined the effect of external factors that influence offspring survival and the cost of care. In this study on the Florida flagfish (Jordanella floridae), a species with male parental care, we examined whether environmentally induced changes in care result from changes in egg requirements or in parental costs. We manipulated salinity and temperature, as these factors are known to affect the metabolic rate in both eggs and parents. We predicted that if the change in care behavior is determined by costs to the male then it should be paralleled by changes in non-egg-directed behavior. Conversely, if egg-directed behavior changes independently of other behavior it would suggest that behavior is determined primarily by egg requirements. In addition we examined patterns of mating success under the assumption that if male care is affected by environmental factors then female preferences may change accordingly. Males decreased egg-directed behavior (fanning and cleaning of eggs) at high salinity. Non-egg-directed behavior was unaffected by salinity. Temperature had no effects on behavior. Thus, we conclude that changes in egg demands are primarily responsible for the observed results. Successful males were bigger and more aggressive. This suggests that male dominance was an important determinant of male mating success. Unsuccessful males showed significantly more variation in number of red stripes with respect to salinity than successful males. Unsuccessful males may be less able to regulate color expression under varying environmental conditions, in which case color may be an indicator of male quality. We replicated the experiment early and late in the season. Males did not change their effort in care over the season. However, care (fanning) in the absence of eggs increased towards the end of the season. Since pre-mating fanning was positively correlated to a male’s eventual mating success we conclude that males increased their effort to attract mates late in the season.

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