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1.  Virginity and the clutch size behavior of a parasitoid wasp where mothers mate their sons 
Theoretical and empirical research on the evolution of clutch size has proved to be an extremely productive area of evolutionary biology. A general prediction is that individuals should produce a smaller number of offspring when resources are more limited, such as when multiple individuals compete for the same resources for their development. However, we expect that the opposite prediction arises with virgin females of haplodiploid species, which are subject to extreme local mate competition. We test the key assumption and predictions of this theory with the parasitoid wasp Melittobia australica. Our data demonstrate that there is a trade-off between the size of the first and subsequent clutches and that virgin females adjust their production of sons according to the mating status (mated or not) of cofounding females. We also found that mated females facultatively change their offspring sex ratio in response to the mating status of cofoundresses. We discuss the potential mechanisms used to recognize the mating status and the implications of our results in the context of the extremely female-biased sex ratios observed across Melittobia species..
doi:10.1093/beheco/arq046
PMCID: PMC3947723  PMID: 24619355
clutch size; constrained female; local mate competition; Melittobia australica; reproductive strategy; sex allocation
2.  Lethal combat over limited resources: testing the importance of competitors and kin 
Although most animals employ strategies to avoid costly escalation of conflict, the limitation of critical resources may lead to extreme contests and fatal fighting. Evolutionary theories predict that the occurrence and intensity of fights can be explained by resource value and the density and relatedness of competitors. However, the interaction between these factors and their relative importance often remains unclear; moreover, few systems allow all variables to be experimentally investigated, making tests of these theoretical predictions rare. Here, we use the parasitoid wasp Melittobia to test the importance of all these factors. In contrast to predictions, variation in contested resource value (female mates) and the relatedness of competitors do not influence levels of aggression. However, as predicted, fight intensity increased with competitor density and was not influenced by the greater cost of fighting at high density. Our results suggest that in the absence of kin recognition, indirectly altruistic behavior (spite) is unlikely to evolve, and in such circumstances, the scale of competition will strongly influence the amount of kin discrimination in the form of level of aggression as observed in Melittobia species.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arq209
PMCID: PMC3947730  PMID: 24619384
fatal fighting; kin discrimination; Melittobia; relatedness; resource competition; spite
3.  Non-random brood mixing suggests adoption in a colonial cichlid 
Parental care of unrelated offspring is widespread but not well understood. We used 11 polymorphic microsatellite loci to investigate the relatedness of fry and parentally caring adults in a 118-nest colony of the socially and genetically monogamous cichlid fish Neolamprologus caudopunctatus in Lake Tanganyika. There was a high proportion of brood mixing, with 59% of 32 broods containing fry unrelated to both parents, and 18% of all 291 sampled fry being unrelated to the breeding pair. There was no evidence of kin selection for adoption because the genetic and foster parents were not more related than expected by chance. Parentage was assigned to 12 adopted fry from 10 broods. Distances traversed by fry varied markedly, from less than one to over 40 meters. The larger distances suggest that at least some brood mixing was instigated by parents transporting portions of their broods in their mouths, as occurs in some cichlids. Further evidence of non-random brood mixing was that foreign fry did not differ in size from their foster siblings within broods, even though they were significantly larger than fry produced by the tending pairs within the colony. These findings suggest that at least some foreign fry had dispersed non-randomly and were adopted by their foster parents. Enlarged broods are known to provide reduced per capita predation, making it potentially adaptive for breeders to adopt unrelated offspring.
doi:10.1093/beheco/ars195
PMCID: PMC3837205  PMID: 24277978
brood mixing; cichlid; parental care; adoption; parental investment; microsatellite analysis; brood farming out
4.  Lethal combat and sex ratio evolution in a parasitoid wasp 
Sex allocation theory provides excellent opportunities for testing how behavior and life histories are adjusted in response to environmental variation. One of the most successful areas from this respect is Hamilton’s local mate competition theory. As predicted by theory, a large number of animal species have been shown to adjust their offspring sex ratios (proportion male) conditionally, laying less female-biased sex ratios as the number of females that lay eggs on a patch increases. However, recent studies have shown that this predicted pattern is not followed by 2 parasitoid species in the genus Melittobia, which always produce extremely female-biased sex ratios. A possible explanation for this is that males fight fatally and that males produced by the first female to lay eggs on a patch have a competitive advantage over later emerging males. This scenario would negate the advantage of later females producing a less female-biased sex ratio. Here we examine fatal fighting and sex ratio evolution in another species, Melittobia acasta. We show that females of this species also fail to adjust their offspring sex ratio in response to the number of females laying eggs on a patch. We then show that although earlier emerging males do have an advantage in winning fights, this advantage 1) can be reduced by an interaction with body size, with larger males more likely to win fights and 2) only holds for a brief period around the time at which the younger males emerge from their pupae. This suggests that lethal male combat cannot fully explain the lack of sex ratio shift observed in Melittobia species. We discuss alternative explanations.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arm034
PMCID: PMC3836406  PMID: 24273326
body size; competition; contests; local mate competition; Melittobia acasta
5.  The deterrent effect of bird song in territory defense 
Behavioral Ecology  2008;20(1):200-206.
Using the responses of territory owners to playback to infer the territorial function of acoustic signals is common practice. However, difficulties with interpreting the results of such experiments have obscured our understanding of territorial signalling. For instance, a stronger response to playback is often interpreted as more aggressive, but there is no consensus as to whether this should be in response to the least or most threatening simulated intruder. Rather than following a gradual increase or decrease, the relationship between signal intensity and response strength may instead describe a peaked curve. We manipulated banded wren (Thryophilus pleurostictus) songs to simulate low-, median-, and high-performance singers and used these songs as stimuli in playback experiments. Banded wrens were less likely to approach the high-performance stimulus compared with the low- and median-performance stimuli. However, the birds that did approach the high-performance stimulus sang more than those that approached the low-performance stimulus. In addition, birds were more likely to match the songs when exposed to the median- and high-performance stimuli compared with the low-performance stimuli, and song matching predicted approach behavior. These results are in accordance with theoretical models of aggressive encounters in which low-performance opponents are challenged without further assessment. Median- and high-performance opponents, however, may require further assessment, and the latter may be perceived as too intimidating for approach.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arn135
PMCID: PMC2662740  PMID: 19337589
assessment; playback; sexual selection; song; territory defense
6.  Courtship attention in sagebrush lizards varies with male identity and female reproductive state 
Behavioral Ecology  2008;19(6):1326-1332.
Previous experiments suggest that males spend more time with the more receptive of 2 novel females or the one with the higher fitness potential. However, males often court individual females repeatedly over a season; for example, male lizards sequentially visit familiar females as they patrol territorial boundaries. It may benefit males to vary display intensity as they move between multiple females. In this study, we explored the factors influencing amount of male courtship to familiar females in the sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus. We tested whether males vary the amount of courtship exhibited due to individual differences among males, female reproductive state, or female fitness potential. Each male was allowed to interact separately, but repeatedly, with 2 females until both females laid eggs. Male courtship behavior with each of the 2 females was assayed at an intermediate point, after 3 weeks of interaction. We found that individual differences among males were considerable. The number of male courtship displays was also positively correlated with female latency to lay eggs, with males displaying more often toward females with eggs that had not yet been fertilized. Courtship behavior was not well predicted by the number of eggs laid or by female width, both measures of female quality. Thus, male S. graciosus appear to alter courtship intensity more in response to signals of female reproductive state than in response to variation in potential female fitness.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arn072
PMCID: PMC2583109  PMID: 19458780
courtship; male choice; mate choice; reproductive state; Sceloporus graciosus; sexual selection
7.  The deterrent effect of bird song in territory defense 
Using the responses of territory owners to playback to infer the territorial function of acoustic signals is common practice. However, difficulties with interpreting the results of such experiments have obscured our understanding of territorial signaling. For instance, a stronger response to playback is often interpreted as more aggressive, but there is no consensus as to whether this should be in response to the least or most threatening simulated intruder. Rather than following a gradual increase or decrease, the relationship between signal intensity and response strength may instead describe a peaked curve. We manipulated banded wren (Thryophilus pleurostictus) songs to simulate low, median and high performance singers and used these songs as stimuli in playback experiments. Banded wrens were less likely to approach the high performance stimulus compared to the low and median performance stimuli. However, the birds that did approach the high performance stimulus sang more than those that approached the low performance stimulus. In addition, birds were more likely to match the songs when exposed to the median and high performance stimuli compared to the low performance stimuli and song matching predicted approach behavior. These results are in accordance with theoretical models of aggressive encounters in which low performance opponents are challenged without further assessment. Median and high performance opponents however, may require further assessment and the latter may be perceived as too intimidating for approach.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arn135
PMCID: PMC2662740  PMID: 19337589
playback; song; territory defense; sexual selection; assessment
8.  Courtship attention in sagebrush lizards varies with male identity and female reproductive state 
Previous experiments suggest that males spend more time with the more receptive of two novel females or the one with the higher fitness potential. However, males often court individual females repeatedly over a season; for example, male lizards sequentially visit familiar females as they patrol territorial boundaries. It may benefit males to vary display intensity as they move between multiple females. In this study, we explored the factors influencing amount of male courtship to familiar females in the Sagebrush lizard, Sceloporus graciosus. We tested whether males vary the amount of courtship exhibited due to individual differences among males, female reproductive state, or female fitness potential. Each male was allowed to interact separately, but repeatedly, with two females until both females laid eggs. Male courtship behavior with each of the two females was assayed at an intermediate point, after three weeks of interaction. We found that individual differences among males were considerable. The number of male courtship displays was also positively correlated with female latency to lay eggs, with males displaying more often towards females with eggs that had not yet been fertilized. Courtship behavior was not well predicted by the number of eggs laid or by female width, both measures of female quality. Thus, male S. graciosus appear to alter courtship intensity more in response to signals of female reproductive state than in response to variation in potential female fitness.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arn072
PMCID: PMC2583109  PMID: 19458780
Sceloporus graciosus; male choice; mate choice; sexual selection; reproductive state; courtship
9.  Song matching, overlapping, and switching in the banded wren: the sender’s perspective 
Interpreting receiver responses to on-territory playback of aggressive signals is problematic. One solution is to combine such receiver-perspective experiments with a sender-perspective experiment that allows subjects to demonstrate how their choice of singing strategies is associated with their approach behavior. Here we report the results of a sender-perspective study on the banded wren (Thryothorus pleurostictus), and combine information on context and results of previous receiver-perspective experiments to clarify function. Territorial males were presented with a 5-min playback consisting of song types present in their repertoire. We assessed the degree to which the subjects’ song matching rate, overlapping rate, and song-type versatility were correlated with their approach latency, closeness of approach, latency to first retreat, and time spent close to the speaker. Male age, breeding stage, and features of the playback stimuli were also considered. Song matching was associated with rapid and close approach, consistent with the receiver-perspective interpretation of type matching as a conventional signal of aggressive motivation. Overlapping was associated with earlier retreat, and together with the aversive receiver response to our previous overlapping playback experiment suggests that overlapping is a defensive withdrawal signal. High versatility was associated with slower first retreat from the speaker and high levels of reciprocal matching between subject and playback. Males with fledglings sang with particularly low versatility and approached the speaker aggressively, whereas males with nestlings overlapped more and retreated quickly. Finally, older males matched more but overlapped less.
PMCID: PMC2288572  PMID: 18392112
Aggressive motivation; playback design; path analysis; signal function; singing versatility; song-type repertoires
10.  Overlapping signals in banded wrens: long-term effects of prior experience on males and females 
We tested the signal value of song overlapping in banded wrens (Thryothorus pleurostictus), using interactive playback to either overlap or alternate with their songs. Males shortened song duration and decreased variability in song length when their songs were overlapped by playback, suggesting that they were attempting to avoid being overlapped and perhaps being less aggressive. A novel finding was an effect of long-term prior experience: song lengths remained relatively short in alternating trials that followed two or more days after overlapping trials. Approach responses to the two treatments did not differ overall, but there was a parallel effect of prior experience: males tended to stay further from the speaker during alternating treatments if they had previously been overlapped by playback. Some females paired to the male subjects sang in response to playback and were also influenced by prior experience, singing more during alternating trials that had not been preceded by an overlapping trial. Male overlappers may signal dominance over a rival to other male or female receivers in a communication network, but it is currently unclear whether overlapping indicates motivation to escalate an aggressive interaction, or whether this singing strategy is related to male quality. Banded wrens are long-lived and maintain year-round territories, so modifying responses to rivals based on prior experience is likely to be important for success.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arj022
PMCID: PMC1391916  PMID: 16523216
song overlap; interactive signals; communication networks; male quality; female song

Results 1-10 (10)