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Aneesh P Bose, Noah Houpt, Madeline Rawlins, Jessica Miller, Francis Juanes, and Sigal Balshine (2020)

Indirect cue of paternity uncertainty does not affect nest site selection or parental care in a Pacific toadfish

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 74(2):1-10.

Parents are expected to reduce offspring investment when confronted with reliable cues of compromised parentage, yet establishing which cues are reliable is an empirical challenge. Presenting a potential cuckolder to a breeding male is often used in experiments as an indirect cue of paternity loss. However, determining the reliability and hence the utility of this cue is an important but often-overlooked research step. Furthermore, cues of compromised parentage are typically manipulated only during the narrow time window(s) when copulations take place, and so we currently have a poor understanding of whether these cues also convey useful information at other critical timepoints in the reproductive cycle, such as during nest site selection. Here, we present a series of field and laboratory studies using a paternal care giving toadfish, the plainfin midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) to address these questions. We tested whether the presence of a potential cuckolder near a potential nesting site reduces the odds that males will choose to nest at that site, or reduces the amount of care they provide for offspring. Overall, we found no clear effect of cuckolder presence on the likelihood that a male would occupy nor abandon a nesting site, nor on the amount of paternal care provided. The presentation of a single sneaker male may have been too weak a signal of cuckoldry to elicit a response from guarder males. Alternatively, a single sneaker male may not represent a severe enough threat to paternity to warrant a response. We highlight the importance of considering the diverse range of natural history and ecological factors that underlie paternity cue utility across different model organisms.