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Anim Behav. 1999 Dec;58(6):1261-1267.

The relationship between signal quality and physical condition: is sexual signalling honest in the three-spined stickleback?

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Turku


Honest sexual signalling requires that the level of advertisement reveals mate quality. In the three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, females base their mate choice mainly on the intensity of the males' red breeding coloration. Different results have, however, been obtained on the relationship between red breeding coloration and physical condition. In this study, the relationship was curvilinear in a natural population, with males in good and poor condition (measured as lipid content) having larger red areas than males of intermediate condition. By manipulating food intake and thus male condition prior to breeding, I further show that poor condition can induce an increase in signalling effort. This effect was further strengthened when the predation cost of signalling was increased by exposing the males to predators. This suggests that the reason for the high signalling effort of males in poor condition is their low probability of future reproduction and thus lower cost of signalling in terms of loss of future reproductive opportunities. Males in poor condition signal as a terminal effort and take larger risks and invest more in current reproduction than males in good condition. Finally, I discuss whether an effect of decreasing residual reproductive value on signalling effort could result in the breakdown of the honesty of the signal. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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