To flirt or not to flirt, that is the question

June 9, 2011
A male desert goby courting a female. Credit: P. Andreas Svensson.

( -- After studying male desert goby fish, a team of Monash researchers has suggested that male sexual behaviour is primed to produce the greatest number of offspring.

In the underwater world of desert goby , it is the males whose work is never done.

As exclusive parental guardians it is up to males to guard and fan the – keeping them well-oxygenated and removing debris - while females flit about finding new mates.

It had been thought females selected breeding partners based on the quality of their parental care. Another assumption was that the males were so diligent at caring for the eggs they might even show off their parental skills to attract cruising females.

Dr. Bob Wong, Senior Lecturer at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences and an expert in behavioral ecology, suspected desert goby life was more complex.

In collaboration with Monash honors student Nicholas Symons and a postdoctoral researcher, P. Andreas Svensson, Dr Wong and his team set out to discover what really motivates these little fish. A paper based on their research has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

“It turns out that male desert gobies put courtship before childcare,” Dr. Wong said.

“We found that when egg-tending males were in the presence of a female they spent more time outside their nest engaged in courtship rituals and less time inside the nest fanning their eggs, which they did in shorter bouts and less often.”

“While we didn’t measure what impact this had on females, it was significant that all of the males displayed a similar drive to leave the nest to attract potential mates.”

Dr. Wong said the evolutionary tradeoff demonstrated by male desert gobies was that it was worth engaging in behaviour that could result in the loss of some eggs, for the chance to mate and produce more eggs with a new female.

“Parental effort and courtship are not compatible,” Dr. Wong said.

“In lay terms, you could speculate that as far as male desert gobies are concerned, the way to a girl’s heart is to display your affections, while demonstrating you’re a good father is secondary.”

Dr. Wong said the real value of the study is that it highlights the importance of understanding the circumstances under which reproductive tradeoffs can occur and how these could influence male reproductive decisions.

“People tend to think of reproduction as a harmonious venture between the sexes but we are beginning to see that this is not always the case,” Dr. Wong said.

“Male and female reproductive interests are seldom the same and, from a male perspective, it could make reproductive sense to be courting more females to try to maximize reproductive gains.”

Dr. Wong said the study adds to a body of research showing that , as do females, behave in ways to maximise their reproductive pay offs, even if it might be detrimental to members of the opposite sex.

“In this way, we might be able to gain insights into reproductive conflicts in humans as well because they are issues that are common across species,” Dr. Wong said.

“Don Juan behaviors aside, such conflicts between the sexes are apparent even in day to day things like who has to take the kids to the school.”

Explore further: A love game: Fish courtship more complex than thought

Related Stories

A love game: Fish courtship more complex than thought

November 10, 2010

Monash University researchers have discovered that male Australian desert goby fish are surprisingly strategic when it comes to courtship, adapting their tactics depending on the frequency of their contact with females.

Masquerading in murky waters

July 19, 2007

Finding a decent, honest mate is challenging enough without the added problem of reduced visibility caused by human-induced changes to the aquatic environment.

Parents seeking sex abandon 1 in 3 offspring

July 30, 2007

The eggs of the penduline tit Remiz pendulinus are frequently abandoned as both parents go in search of new sexual conquests, a study published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology has found.

Female guppies risk death to avoid sexual harassment

August 6, 2008

Sexual harassment from male guppies is so bad that long-suffering females will risk their lives to escape it, according to new research from Dr Safi Darden and Dr Darren Croft from Bangor University. Their work, which was ...

For fish, bigger doesn’t always mean healthier

November 17, 2009

( -- Female smallmouth bass tend to prefer bigger male mates, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. That’s the finding of a new study in the latest issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology that ...

Recommended for you

Scientists edit butterfly wing spots and stripes

September 18, 2017

An international research team working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama knocked-out a single control gene in the DNA of seven different butterfly species. In the Sept. 18 Proceedings of the National ...

Enzyme's worth to biofuels shown in latest research

September 18, 2017

An enzyme discovered at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) proves adept at breaking down cellulose fibers regardless of whether their crystalline structure is simple or highly ...

When it comes to the threat of extinction, size matters

September 18, 2017

Animals in the Goldilocks zone—neither too big, nor too small, but just the right size—face a lower risk of extinction than do those on both ends of the scale, according to an extensive global analysis.

Deep roots in plants driven by soil hydrology

September 18, 2017

Searching for water, some tree roots probe hundreds of feet deep and many trees send roots through cracks in rocks, according to a new study led by a Rutgers University-New Brunswick professor.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.