Size matters: male and female mate choice leads to size-assortative pairing in a coral reef cardinalfish

Rueger, Theresa, Gardiner, Naomi M., and Jones, Geoffrey P. (2016) Size matters: male and female mate choice leads to size-assortative pairing in a coral reef cardinalfish. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 27 (6). pp. 1585-1591.

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Abstract

Many animals exhibit size-assortative mating, and matching theory predicts this occurs because both males and females prefer bigger mates. Monogamy and size-assortative pairing have been described for coral reef fishes, but the underlying behavioral mechanism has not been tested. Here, we took a long-term observational and experimental study to resolve the causes of size-based pairing in the paternal mouthbrooding coral reef cardinalfish Sphaeramia nematoptera. For 65 pairs observed over a 23-month period, there was a strong size-correlation between paired males and females. This size-assortative mating was not a consequence of pairing at a young age as re-pairing was common, with only 7% juvenile pairs still found together after 8 months. For adults that changed partners over this period, there was a strong correlation between the size of individuals and the size of their new partners. Following experimental removal of partners, both males and females quickly repaired with partners of similar or larger size. Together, these results suggest that size-assortative mating is explained by a mutual preference by both males and females for larger mates. We suggest that monogamous pairing occurs in cardinalfish because mouthbrooding restricts multiple mating by males. Size-assortative pairing follows as larger males likely prefer the more fecund larger females, and larger females prefer larger males because they can successfully brood all of their eggs. Mutual mate choice will likely explain size-assortative pairing in other fish species with paternal care.

Item ID: 45196
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0762
Keywords: assortative pairing, cardinalfish, coral reefs, matching, mate choice, paternal care
Funders: James Cook University, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC CoE Coral Reef Studies)
Projects and Grants: ARC CoE Coral Reef Studies CE140100020
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2016 22:25
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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