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Shagun Jindal, Aneesh Bose, Constance O'Connor, and Sigal Balshine (2017)

A test of male infanticide as a reproductive tactic in a cichlid fish. 

Royal Society Open Science.

Infanticide and offspring cannibalism are taxonomically widespread phenomena. In some group-living species, a new dominant individual taking over a group can benefit from infanticide if doing so induces potential mates to become reproductively available sooner. Despite widespread observations of infanticide (i.e. egg cannibalism) among fishes, no study has investigated whether egg cannibalism occurs in fishes as a result of group take-overs, or how this type of cannibalism might be adaptive. Using the cooperatively-breeding cichlid, Neolamprologus pulcher, we tested whether new unrelated males entering the dominant position in a social group were more likely to cannibalize eggs, and whether such cannibalism would shorten the interval until the female’s next spawning. Females spawned again sooner if their broods were removed than if they were cared for. Egg cannibalism occurred frequently after a group take-over event, and was rarer if the original male remained with the group. While dominant breeder females were initially highly aggressive towards newcomer take-over males, the degree of resistance depended on relative body size differences between the new pair, and ultimately, female aggression did not prevent egg cannibalism. Egg cannibalism, however, did not shorten the duration until subsequent spawning, or increase fecundity during subsequent breeding in our laboratory setting. Our results show that infanticide as mediated through group take-overs is a taxonomically widespread behaviour. 

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