Lunar and diurnal cycles in reproductive physiology and behavior in a natural population of cooperatively breeding fish

Authors

  • J. K. Desjardins,

    1. Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
    2. Animal Behaviour Group, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
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  • J. L. Fitzpatrick,

    1. Centre for Evolutionary Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
    2. Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
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  • K. A. Stiver,

    1. Animal Behaviour Group, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
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  • G. J. Van Der Kraak,

    1. College of Biological Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
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  • S. Balshine

    1. Animal Behaviour Group, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
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  • Editor: Jean-Nicolas Volff

Correspondence
Julie K. Desjardins, Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA.
Email: desjarjk@stanford.edu

Abstract

Natural environmental periodicity that occurs on both the small scale like day length, or larger scale like lunar light can provide animals with valuable information about resource availability and predation risk. Such environmental cycles are often linked to the timing of reproduction. Here, using the circulating androgen concentrations, gonadal investment patterns and detailed behavioral observations we show that wild populations of the group-living cichlid, Neolamprologus pulcher from Lake Tanganyika, have marked diurnal differences in behavior and lunar synchronicity in their reproductive physiology and behavior. Female ovarian investment peaked in the first quarter of the lunar cycle. In males, plasma steroid hormone levels and sperm swimming speed were highest at this same lunar stage, supporting the idea that egg laying occurs during this phase and that young will emerge at full moon, perhaps because nocturnal predators can be best detected then. Female subordinate group members' gonadal investment patterns mirrored the lunar pattern observed in dominant female breeders. In contrast, male subordinates did not show a change in gonadal investment or in steroid hormone concentrations across the lunar cycle, suggesting that female subordinates, but not male subordinates, reproduce within the social group. Neolamprologus pulcher demonstrated diurnal cycles in behavior, with higher rates of feeding in the morning. Male and female breeding pairs were strongly size matched potentially as a result of size-assortative mating; also the gonadal investment of male and female mated pairs was strongly correlated indicating within-pair reproductive synchronicity. In general, this study provides evidence for the impact of environmental cues (sunlight and moonlight) on circulating hormones and reproduction in a small tropical freshwater fish.

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