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Anim Behav. 2000 Jan;59(1):11-20.

Differences in potential reproductive rates of male and female seahorses related to courtship roles.

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Department of Biology, Tufts University


Dwarf seahorses, Hippocampus zosterae (Syngnathidae), are distinguished by extreme morphological specialization for paternal care, the formation of monogamous pair bonds and mating repeatedly over the course of a breeding season. To determine the potential reproductive rates of male and female dwarf seahorses, we measured (1) the maximum number of offspring produced per breeding cycle when sexually receptive mates were unlimited, and (2) the relative time each sex was unavailable for mating ('time out'). We paired sexually isolated males and females with sexually receptive partners and observed them from the day of introduction through to copulation, to determine the length of time it takes each sex to prepare to mate. We conducted additional experiments to determine the length of gestation, which when added to the time needed to prepare to mate and copulate gives an estimate of total reproductive cycle duration, T. We estimated potential reproductive rate by dividing the mean number of offspring produced per breeding cycle by the duration of the breeding cycle (T). We estimated reproductive 'time out' by identifying the period of time males and females were physiologically capable of mating ('time in', S) and subtracting time S from time T. When provided with sexually receptive partners, females took 2 days longer than males to complete courtship and copulation, but neither males nor females remated during gestation. Therefore, males could potentially produce 17% more offspring than females over the course of one breeding season. Females had reproductive 'times out' 1.2 times longer than did males, as they were only capable of mating during the 4 h directly preceding copulation. Thus, H. zosterae males have higher potential reproductive rates and shorter reproductive 'times out' compared with H. zosterae females. These results and previous work indicating that seahorses display traditional courtship roles support the prediction that the sex having the higher potential reproductive rate, or equivalently, the shorter 'time out', will compete more intensely for access to the opposite sex.


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