Evol Ecol Res 20: 145-166 (2019)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

A comparison of nuptial coloration and breeding behaviour in white and common marine Threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) ecotypes

Anne L. Haley, Anne C. Dalziel and Laura K. Weir

Department of Biology, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Correspondence: L.K. Weir, Department of Biology, 923 Robie Street, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS B3H 3C3, Canada. email: laura.weir@smu.ca


Background: In Nova Scotia, Canada, an endemic ‘white’ ecotype has evolved in sympatry with ‘common’ marine stickleback. Common males develop blue-green or brown dorsal coloration during mating, whereas white males become bright pearlescent white. White males also differ behaviourally from common males; they court females at a higher intensity and do not provide parental care. Both ecotypes occur along the oceanic coast of Nova Scotia and in the Bras d’Or Lake, an inland body of water on Cape Breton Island. Common marine stickleback from these two locations are genetically and morphologically distinct, but the phylogenetic relationship between white populations is not known. Furthermore, direct comparisons of mating behaviour and nuptial coloration between oceanic and Bras d’Or Lake stickleback have not been conducted for either ecotype.

Questions: Do Bras d’Or and Atlantic oceanic populations of white and common stickleback ecotypes display similar patterns of divergence in nuptial coloration and mating behaviour?

Methods: We measured melanophore density and coverage and quantified male breeding behaviour (courtship, nest-building, and intra-sexual aggression) in wild white and common males from Atlantic oceanic sites and the Bras d’Or Lake.

Results: Breeding white males from both geographic locations had a lower density of melanophores and reduced melanophore coverage compared with sympatric common males. White males from the two regions also behaved in a similar manner and had higher rates of courtship than common males but did not vary in other breeding behaviours. For both melanophore and behavioural data, there were some weak differences among white populations from the two locations but breeding white males in both areas use very similar strategies to attract females.

Keywords: Atlantic Canada, convergent evolution, melanophores, parental care, sexual selection, speciation.

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