- University of Western Ontario
- University of East Anglia
Colonial breeding can evolve in response to benefits afforded by clumped individuals, such as reduced predation and increased ease of assessing potential mates. However, colonial breeding can also impose costs such as increased disease transmission or increased cuckoldry. Here, we investigate solitary nesting as a potential alternative breeding tactic in colonial breeding bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). Most male bluegill, termed parentals, compete for nesting sites in colonies and then court and spawn with females and provide sole care of the eggs. Although nesting in a colony results in reduced predation and fungal infection of broods, it comes at a cost of increased parasitism by specialized cuckolder males that do not nest. We found that 4.5% of parentals forgo spawning in a colony and instead construct nests solitarily. Solitary males were of similar size and age to colonial males, but were in significantly better condition. Solitary males obtained as many eggs as males nesting in the center of colonies, and significantly more than males nesting on the periphery of colonies. Thus, females do not appear to discriminate against solitary males. Solitary males had smaller ear tabs, a presumed sexually selected character used by parental males in intrasexual competition, than colonial males. Tracking data revealed consistency in nesting tactic (but not nest position within the colony) between spawning attempts. We suggest that solitary nesting represents either a facultative decision made by parental males in top condition at the onset of breeding, or a life history decision to forgo spawning in colonies.
Observations by snorkelling, daily surveys of breeding and nests