Males of many species are characterized by alternative mating tactics. In bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus), some males delay maturation and become “parentals” while other males mature precociously and become “cuckolders.” Parentals use an overt, territorial mating tactic, defending a nest and courting females. Cuckolders instead use a sneaking tactic to parasitize parentals. It has previously been shown that parentals that are heavily cuckolded provide less care to their young, yet females do not appear to discriminate against cuckolders, and they may actually release more eggs when a cuckolder is present than when spawning only with a parental. Here I examined growth rate of fry of known paternity through the yolk-sac stage of development using complementary laboratory and field studies to assess a potential indirect benefit for females that mate with cuckolders. Comparison of maternal half-siblings sired in vitro shows that cuckolder offspring grow faster and to a larger size than parental offspring while feeding endogenously on their yolk sac. Because both food resource and maternal genes are equivalent across treatments, these data indicate a genetic difference in growth between the two male life histories. In the field, fry from nests that have proportionately more cuckolder offspring are larger when they emerge from the nest. This increased size can lead to threefold higher survivorship for cuckolder offspring than parental offspring from Hydra canadensis predation, a major predator of bluegill fry. These results are discussed in the context of mate choice for direct and indirect benefits and in the context of the evolution of alternative mating tactics.
Collected fish, then sperm, fertilized eggs in dishes