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Stanford researchers discover the African cichlid's noisy courtship ritual
Date:6/13/2012

African cichlids enjoy an alien, exotic courtship routine. A dominant male attracts choice females to his territory by dancing seductively. If the female is sufficiently impressed, she lays her eggs and immediately collects them in her mouth, where the male fertilizes them. And, in some species, every once in a while, a lower-ranking male will dart into the scene and try to fertilize a few eggs before the dominant male knows what's happened.

At least that's what we thought was going on. But one day, while watching this nostalgic display in the lab, Stanford postdoctoral biology researcher Karen Maruska noticed something unusual. A dominant male was courting a female in one corner of the tank, at the entrance to a terra cotta pot he had claimed as his territory.

"Then, at the last minute, a subordinate male made a beeline for them from the corner of the tank behind the pot, so he could spawn at just the right time," Maruska said. "And I thought: there's no way the subordinate saw" that opportunity. In fact, he didn't see it. He heard it.

Astatotilapia burtoni's predilection for waggling its tail and quivering its body before mating is well documented. But what Maruska, undergraduate researcher Uyhun Ung and Stanford biology Professor Russ Fernald would later write in a paper published last week in PloS ONE was that males also vocalize during courtship. Not only are females responsive to these calls, but their ability to hear them improves with their sexual receptiveness. This additional courtship component may provide crucial signals used for mate choice decisions and help explain how similar-looking cichlid species avoid accidental interbreeding.

Listening fish

Using underwater microphones called hydrophones, the researchers found that males would make low-frequency sounds when confronted with receptive females. And females preferred males associated with playbacks of these courtship sounds over males that
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Contact: Max McClure
maxmc@stanford.edu
650-725-6737
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert  

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Stanford researchers discover the African cichlid's noisy courtship ritual
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