Year of Publication

2005

Document Type

Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Biology

First Advisor

R. Craig Sargent

Abstract

Sexual conflict occurs when individuals of one sex express traits that reduce the fitness of their mates. Males of many species harass females to gain copulations, which benefits males by increasing the number of offspring they sire but imposes energetic and opportunity costs on the females they harass. This thesis examined the fitness costs of sexual harassment to females, the energetic costs of mating to males, and the factors influencing the intensity of male competition for mates in the western mosquitofish Gambusia affinis. I quantified male and female behavior, four female fitness components (number of offspring per female, embryo number, growth, and survival), and an index of male body condition in response to changes in operational sex ratio (experiment 1) and male and female density (experiment 2). I found that a strong, negative effect of female density on female fitness overwhelmed any potential costs of male harassment, suggesting that ecological interactions between females may play a larger role in determining female fitness than conflict between the sexes. Agonistic chases and displays between males increased as the operational sex ratio increased (became male-biased), while the number of copulations males attempted decreased. This inverse relationship suggests a tradeoff between interfering with other males and attempting additional copulations with females. Increases in chases between males were largely due to changes in female density, but not male density, suggesting that the availability of females determines whether males escalate contests with other males. In contrast, the number of displays between males depended varied with male density but did not female density. This difference between chases and displays is likely due to their difference in function; chases are performed to prevent other males from mating while displays are used to assess male competitors. I did not detect any energetic cost of mating to males.

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