We studied parental behavior in six syntopically breeding species of centrarchid fishes to determine whether energetic costs could contribute to our understanding of the diversity of parental care. We used a combination of underwater videography, radio telemetry and direct observation to examine how the cost of parental care varied with both its duration and intensity. Duration of parental care, activity patterns, and energetic costs varied widely among species. Overall, the duration of care increased with parental size between species. When energetic costs were adjusted for species-specific differences in the duration of parental care, the cost of parental care also increased with mean size of the species. Species with extended parental care exhibited stage-specific patterns of activity and energy expenditure consistent with parental investment theory, whereas fish with short duration parental care tended to maintain high levels of activity throughout the entire period of parental care. The only apparent exception (a species with brief parental care but stage-specific behavior) was a species with multiple breeding bouts, and thus effectively having protracted parental care. These data suggest that some species with short duration parental care can afford not to adjust parental investment over stages of offspring development. Using our empirical data on parental care duration and costs, we reevaluated the relationship between egg size and quality of parental care. Variation in egg size explained almost all of the observed variation in total energetic cost of parental care, and to a lesser degree, duration—the larger the eggs, the more costly the parental care. This research highlights the value of incorporating energetic information into the study of parental care behavior and testing of ecological theory.
Fish were videotaped, radio telemetry devices used and direct observations used