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Abstract

Although material resources can have a direct bearing on the fitness of both sexes, few studies have actually examined resource-based preferences from a male choice perspective. In sand gobies, Pomatoschistus minutus, the size of a male’s nest influences his attractiveness to females and also dictates the number of eggs he can receive. Thus, one might expect males to prefer larger nests. However, an earlier study of marine sand gobies from a population with a surplus of nest sites and high nest predation found that males exhibited size-assortative nest preferences. Here, we investigated male nest preferences from a brackish population characterised by a chronic nest shortage but lower predation risk. A survey of naturally settled nests in the field (shells and rocks) showed a pattern of size-assortative nest occupancy consistent with the previously studied population, with larger males occupying larger (i.e. rock) nests. However, when offered a choice of potential nests in the absence of male competition, we found that all male gobies in our population, irrespective of their own body size, actually preferred larger nests. Moreover, a predilection towards large nests superseded any preferences based on nest colour. Our results not only indicate the existence of male preferences for material resources but, considered in the light of previous work, also suggest that such preferences may vary among populations and, importantly, may not necessarily be realised in a competitive setting.