Male-mediated species recognition among african weakly electric fishes

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Abstract

Effective communication among sympatric species is often instrumental for behavioural isolation, where the failure to successfully discriminate between potential mates could lead to less fit hybrid offspring. Discrimination between con- and heterospecifics tends to occur more often in the sex that invests more in offspring production, i.e. females, but males may also mediate reproductive isolation. In this study, we show that among two Campylomormyrus African weakly electric fish species, males preferentially associate with conspecific females during choice tests using live fish as stimuli, i.e. when all sensory modalities potentially used for communication were present. We then conducted playback experiments to determine whether the species-specific electric organ discharge (EOD) used for electrocommunication serves as the cue for this conspecific association preference. Interestingly, only C. compressirostris males associated significantly more with the conspecific EOD waveform when playback stimuli were provided, while no such association preference was observed in C. tamandua males. Given our results, the EOD appears to serve, in part, as a male-mediated pre-zygotic isolation mechanism among sympatric species. However, the failure of C. tamandua males to discriminate between con- and heterospecific playback discharges suggests that multiple modalities may be necessary for species recognition in some African weakly electric fish species.

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Nagel, R., Kirschbaum, F., Engelmann, J., Hofmann, V., Pawelzik, F., & Tiedemann, R. (2018). Male-mediated species recognition among african weakly electric fishes. Royal Society Open Science, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170443

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