Postcopulatory Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Male Pregnancy in the Gulf Pipefish
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Male pregnancy is a complex and energetically costly form of male parental care found exclusively in the fish family Syngathidae, which includes pipefishes, seahorses, and seadragons. The novelty of the male brood pouch raises questions about how this trait evolved and what role it plays in sexual selection. One possibility is that brood pouch evolution was partially shaped by postcopulatory sexual selection. We used the sexually dimorphic Gulf pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli, to test for postcopulatory sexual selection within broods and tradeoffs between successive male pregnancies as a function of female attractiveness. Offspring survivorship within a pregnancy was affected by the size of a male's mate, the number of eggs transferred, and the male's mating history. These results indicate the males invest more resources into broods from large, attractive mates to the detriment of future broods. Next, we investigated the effects of food limitation on male parental care strategies. Our data suggests that male Gulf pipefish sacrifice investment in future reproduction, via somatic growth, in favor of current reproduction. A positive relationship between number of failed eggs and male growth rate in our low-food treatments suggests that males may derive an energetic benefit from unsuccessful eggs in the brood pouch. Finally, we used a paired design, to investigate the effect of perceived female attractiveness on offspring survivorship. We found that, in general, males prefer the largest female available. Within a replicate, we found that the male that preferred their mate more, regardless of stimulus female size, also had higher offspring survivorship in the resulting brood. This result is exciting because it shows not only that cryptic male choice affects offspring survivorship in Gulf pipefish but also that mate preference can have a prolonged effect on an individual’s reproductive success. Ultimately, our data suggests that the evolution of the brood pouch has produced a trait that not only nurtures the offspring but also exert cryptic male choice.
postcopulatory sexual selection
Paczolt, Kimberly (2012). Postcopulatory Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Male Pregnancy in the Gulf Pipefish. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from