Does exaggerated morphology preclude plasticity to cuckoldry in the midshipman fish ( Porichthys notatus)?

Research paper by Jonathan S F JS Lee, Andrew H AH Bass

Indexed on: 17 Jul '04Published on: 17 Jul '04Published in: The Science of Nature


In species with more than one male reproductive morph, there typically exists a larger morph with exaggerated secondary sexual characters, and a smaller morph with reduced secondary sexual characters. These "exaggerated" and "reduced" morphologies are commonly thought to represent specializations to alternative behavioral reproductive tactics-large body size and exaggerated secondary sexual characters should both facilitate territoriality, courtship, and pair-spawning; while small body size and reduced secondary sexual characters should facilitate "sneaky" cuckoldry. Given this postulated relationship between morphology and behavior, we examined the relationship between the morphology of exaggerated males and cuckoldry. In a field and aquarium study of the midshipman fish, a fish with both exaggerated and reduced morphs, we demonstrated cuckoldry in some males of the exaggerated morph. Since the "reduced" morphology is thought to be an adaptation towards sneaky cuckoldry, we predicted that, of males with the exaggerated morph, less-exaggerated (smaller) males would be better able to gain proximity to the spawning pair during cuckoldry. In contrast to that prediction, access to the spawning pair during cuckoldry increased with the body size of the cuckolding exaggerated-morph males. This may be related to our observation that exaggerated males often cuckolded aggressively. Thus the "exaggerated" morphology need not preclude adaptive plasticity to cuckoldry, and may even aid it.