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Sina Zarini, Federica Poli, and Sigal Balshine (2023)

Alternative Reproductive Tactics in Goby Fishes of the Caspian Sea

Journal of Fish Biology.

Here we report on the reproductive morphology and histology of three gobiidae species (the Caspian monkey goby, Neogobius pallasi, the Caspian goby, Neogobius caspius and the round goby, Neogobius melanostomus) from the Iranian coastline of the Caspian Sea. Based on aging, reproductive histology, internal and external morphological measures, it appears that all three of these goby species have two types of reproductive males, a large courting, territorial, male type and a small cuckolding parasitic male type, a phenomenon known as alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). Although ARTs have been reported previously for one of these species, the round goby, all reports stem from its invasive range; ARTs have never been reported before in any fish species in the Caspian Sea. In all three goby species there was a large, older male type, with a wide head, dark body colouration and a large investment in accessory glands, an organ important for female attraction and parental care. But there was also as a small, light, younger male type, with a narrow head, longer urogenital papilla and little investment in accessory glands. The Caspian monkey goby were the largest of the three species, and in this species the smaller, lighter, presumably cuckolding male morph was quite rare (only ~5% of the reproductive male population). In contrast, many of the round goby and monkey goby males were the small, lighter parasitic type, making up nearly half the population of reproductive males (48% and 40% respectively). Round goby and Caspian goby males had a prominent mesorchial gland, a fibrous sheath of pheromone releasing connective tissue that attaches the testes to the dorsal body wall, but the monkey goby specimens examined all lacked this structure. Although ARTs are well documented across fish species and appear to be particularly common in gobies, our study provides the first evidence for ARTs in goby fishes from the Caspian Sea.