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High frequency of multiple paternity in broods of a socially monogamous cichlid fish with biparental nest defence


Kristina M. Sefc, Fax: +43(0)3163809875; E-mail:


In several animal taxa, genetic analyses have demonstrated that social monogamy and biparental brood care do not preclude polygamous reproduction. Few studies have been conducted in fish, but in fish species without alternative reproductive phenotypes, social monogamy was largely congruent with genetic parentage. In contrast to these findings, we report an exceptionally high level of multiple paternity in a socially monogamous cichlid fish with biparental nest defence (Variabilichromis moorii), inferred from microsatellite and mitochondrial data of 10 broods. Whereas all offspring in a nest shared a common mother, each brood was sired by 2 to > 10 males. None of the inferred sires was assigned a large proportion of the brood. Paternity was estimated as the minimum number of sires required to explain multilocus offspring genotypes, and as the maximum-likelihood number of sires given population allele frequencies. Analysis of simulated brood genotypes suggested that, although these two methods tend to under- and overestimate, respectively, the true number of sires, primary sires with many offspring in a brood would have been detected. Hence, the genetic data indicate that the nest tending males suffer substantial cuckoldry and provide alloparental care for a large number of unrelated fry. We have no data on the social status of the cuckolding males, but due to synchronous spawning of pairs and commitment to brood care of paired males, it is possible that most of the parasitic spawners are solitary males.