• alternative reproductive tactics;
  • conflict;
  • counterstrategy;
  • male–male competition;
  • nest piracy

Field and laboratory studies were conducted to examine how territorial males of a Lake Tanganyika cichlid Telmatochromis vittatus balance the conflicting demands on nest choice between occupying large nests with more females and avoiding reproductive parasitism (nest piracy, which is adopted by the largest males in the population). Pirates less frequently intruded the nests farther from neighbours, perhaps due to the costs associated with travelling between nests. The field experiment showed that territorial male T. vittatus sacrificed the fitness benefits that large nests offer and instead prioritized occupying the nests farther from neighbours on which fewer pirates intruded. The field observations suggested that they adopt different strategies for nest choice according to their relative competitive ability to pirates; the large territorial males, who are size-matched to pirates and can defend their nests against them, compete for larger nests among the more-isolated nests, whereas subordinate territorial males, which are smaller than pirates and thus inferior to them, compete for the more-isolated nests among the less-isolated nests. These findings suggest that the territorial male T. vittatus chooses the more-isolated nests to avoid pirate males at the expense of occupying large nests.