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Alternative reproductive tactics and inverse size-assortment in a high-density fish spawning aggregation

Karkarey, Rucha, Zambre, Amod, Isvaran, Kavita, Arthur, Rohan
BMC ecology 2017 v.17 no.1 pp. 10
Plectropomus, body size, courtship, demographic statistics, females, fisheries, grouper, habitats, males, population density, spawning, India
BACKGROUND: At high densities, terrestrial and marine species often employ alternate reproductive tactics (ARTs) to maximize reproductive benefits. We describe ARTs in a high-density and unfished spawning aggregation of the squaretail grouper (Plectropomus areolatus) in Lakshadweep, India. RESULTS: As previously reported for this species, territorial males engage in pair-courtship, which is associated with a pair-spawning tactic. Here, we document a previously unreported school-courtship tactic; where territorial males court multiple females in mid-water schools, which appears to culminate in a unique ‘school-spawning’ tactic. Courtship tactics were conditional on body size, local mate density and habitat, likely associated with changing trade-offs between potential mating opportunities and intra-sexual competition. Counter-intuitively, the aggregation showed a habitat-specific inverse size-assortment: large males courted small females on the reef slope while small males courted equal-sized or larger females on the shelf. These patterns remained stable across two years of observation at high, unfished densities. CONCLUSIONS: These unique density-dependent behaviours may disappear from this aggregation as overall densities decline due to increasing commercial fishing pressure, with potentially large consequences for demographics and fitness.