Reproduction in fish is dependent on a large number of complex communication factors. The response of the female to male courtship behavior is largely based on the male’s identity, quality, motivation, readiness, and social status. Visual communication, the most studied and best understood mechanism, is just one of the multiple reproductive sensory mechanisms involved in reproduction. . Female choice often relies on visual traits such as size, dominance, mechanoreception, and chemoreception. In Burton's Mouthbrooder Astatotilapia burtoni (Günther, 1893), the male does series of tail waggles that females use as an indicator of their dominance in the social hierarchy. Females also choose to reproduce with the male based on the acoustic frequency in combination with a multitude of other factors.
|Soundwaves produced by a yellow dominant male during courtship (Maurska et al. 2012)|
There are many factors that weigh into a female’s decision to reproduce with a male. Size is a contributor to female reception. A male displaying a certain trait that is larger (such as a larger caudal fin) may be more attractive in some species (Bischoff et al. 1985). Some fish are considered dominant based on factors like size of territory owned or coloration. Dominant males are also more likely to reproduce (Spence 2006). Male odors can also influence a female's preference (Fisher et al. 2006). Females can also use their lateral line to either avoid males or court them (Medina et al. 2013). The sexual response of a female Astatotilapia Burtoni is largely dependent on sounds produced by the male. Many fish use sound to deter predators and intruders, identify members of the same species, and to attract mates. Although the Astatotilapia Burtoni uses sounds in its courtship, it is important to note that not all fish, including many in the cichlidae family do not. Different sound frequencies may even influence morphological changes in some sympatric species, leading to reproductive isolation over time (Longrie et al. 2013).
The likelihood that a female accepts a male as a mate is correlated with the frequency of the noise that he is emitting. These sounds are species specific, varying in “trill duration, number of pulses per trill, pulse period, pulse duration, and interpulse interval” (Maruska et al. 2012). Females in the species Astatotilapia burtoni use sound to choose their mate based on frequency. This is tested in the paper written by Maruska, Ung and Fernald. The authors explain, “ we characterized the sounds and associated behaviors produced by dominant males during courtship, tested whether there were differences in hearing ability associated with female reproductive state or male social status, and then tested the hypothesis that female mate preference is influenced by male sound production.” (Maruska et al. 2012).
Astatotilpia burtoni has a brightly colored dominant male phenotype and a normal colored subordinate male phenotype. This makes them easy to distinguish and easier to use in experiments. The female’s response to courtship depends on the dominance of the male and the female’s reproductive potential at the time. Females that were mouthbrooding at the time were unlikely to respond to male courtship behavior. During courtship, males produce a low frequency sound when close to females. A female may respond to the male’s courtship differently based on the frequency of the noise produced. In the experiment from article one, the scientists used a tank with three compartments. They placed two visually and physically similar males on the outside compartments of the tank. They then introduced a female to the center compartment of the tank and played either the natural tail wag sound or the noise control from speakers in one of the outer compartments. When the natural sound was played through the speaker, the females spent a greater portion of their time on that side of the tank. When the unnatural control sound was played, the female spent equal amounts of time on either side of the tank. This suggests that females take into account acoustic signals when choosing a mate. It was determined that the tail wags are associated with courtship behavior, because “Dominant male A. burtoni produced pulsed broadband sounds during body quivers associated with courtship behaviors. Our simultaneous sound and video recordings demonstrate that these courtship sounds are produced intentionally because not all quiver behaviors were associated with sound production, suggesting that the sound is not merely a by-product of body movements, but that males have some control over when and where it is produced.” (Maruska et al. 2012). The data show that the female prefers sounds produced by the male to be in a specific frequency threshold. More dominant males were able to produce sounds at the optimum hearing range and for a longer period of time.
The increase in the female sex steroid is correlated with the frequency of the sound produced by the male. According to Maruska, Ung, and Fernald, “Astatotilapia burtoni was most sensitive to low frequencies from ∼200–600 Hz, with a best frequency at 200–300 Hz, which overlaps the spectral content of the courtship sounds produced by dominant males.” The sex steroids in the female increased when sounds in this range were played. When the steroids in the female are increased, the female is more likely to reproduce. The more dominant males are able to produce this sound while the less dominant males’ sounds are more likely to be ignored (Maruska et al. 2012).
This research is a good indicator that, in combination with other traits such as size, dominance, mechanoreception and chemoreception, sound is used as a way to attract mates in the African Cichlid species Astatotilapia burtoni. During courtship, males produce courtship sounds that are conducive to increasing female sex steroids. This raises the female’s desire to mate with males who are more dominant, The experiment proved that the courtship sounds produced by Astatotilapia burtoni are both deliberate and vital to reproductive success.
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Longrie, N., P. Poncin, M. Denoël, V. Gennotte, J. Delcourt, and E. Parmentier. 2013. "Behaviours Associated with Acoustic Communication in Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)." PLoS ONE 8(4) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061467.
Maruska, K. P., U. S. Ung, and R. D. Fernald. 2012. The African Cichlid Fish Astatotilapia burtoni uses acoustic communication for reproduction: sound production, hearing, and behavioral significance." PLoS ONE 7(5):e37612 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037612.
Medina, L.M., C.M. Garcia, A.F. Urbina, J.Manjarrez, and A. Moyaho. 2013. Female vibration discourages male courtship behaviour in the Amarillo Fish (Girardinichthys multiradiatus). Behavioural Processes 100:163-68. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2013.09.007.
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