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Abstract

Predation risk has the ability to greatly influence the behaviour of reproducing individuals. In large long-lived species with low risk of predation for parents, reproductive behaviours often involve caring for offspring (i.e. defending broods from predators) and these behaviours are essential for offspring survival. Our objectives were to test for the presence of natural variation in nest predation pressure in an aquatic environment for a species that provides sole-paternal care, smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), and to determine if natural variation in predation pressure influences parental care behaviour. We used snorkeler observations and a series of metrics to assess predation pressure and parental care behaviour in six lakes within a narrow geographical range. Lakes differed in all predation pressure metrics: number of predators in proximity to nest when males were present, time to predator arrival and number of predators that consumed eggs when males were absent and total number of nests that was preyed upon. Similarly, parental behaviour varied between lakes. Parental smallmouth bass spent more time engaged in anti-predator defences in lakes with high predation pressure, while males from low predator pressure lakes remained close to their nest. Conversely, males from lakes with low and high predation pressure showed a similar willingness to defend their nests during simulated nest predation events. Our results show that natural variation in aquatic nest predation pressure across multiple lakes can be significant and has the ability to influence baseline parental care behaviour. Such variation provides opportunities to study the costs and consequences of parental care and to evaluate how this could influence demography and community interactions in aquatic systems.