A correlative study using similar-sized males of the croaking gourami Trichopsis vittata was carried out to investigate whether sound characteristics influenced winning and if relative fighting ability was assessed by acoustic signals. Pair-wise contests between males were decided using lateral displays (LD) and vocalization in 26 cases, whereas 66 fights escalated to the frontal display (FD) phase. Physical fighting (mouth wrestling) and injuries were rarely observed in this species. Winners were generally larger than their opponents, and this effect was more pronounced in non-escalated than in escalated contests. Sounds of fight winners had a higher sound pressure level and also a lower dominant frequency. Neither number of acoustic signals nor duration of lateral and frontal displays were predictors of contest outcome. Acoustic measures were highly correlated to body weight. These results indicate that traits correlated with RHP (such as sound pressure level and dominant frequency) were predictors of the outcome, while traits not correlated with size (such as number and duration of displays) did not influence winning. In accordance with the main prediction of assessment models, the contest duration (cost) increased with the decrease in asymmetry of body length as well as sound pressure level. No such relationships were found for weight and dominant frequencies in LD- and FD-contests.

The present study indicates that morphological and sound characteristics influence winning in fish. Moreover, the results suggest that croaking gouramis settle conflicts without damaging combats by assessing asymmetries in different components of RHP such as body weight and length, which may reliably be signalled by acoustic and visual assessment signals.