Sex in murky waters: anthropogenic disturbance of sexual selection in pipefish

Animals experience variation in their environment because of natural changes. However, due to anthropogenic disturbance, the speed and severity of these changes have recently increased. This thesis investigates how reproductive behaviours may be affected by human induced environmental change. In specific, I investigate how visual and chemical changes in the aquatic environment, caused by eutrophication, affect mating systems and sexual selection in fish. Broad-nosed- and straight-nosed pipefish, which both have been studied in detail for a long period, were used as model organisms. These two species are particularly suitable model organisms since they perform complex courtship behaviours, including the advertisement of ornaments and a nuptial dance. Further, two distinct populations were studied, one on the Swedish west coast and one in the Baltic Sea, as these two locations vary in the degree and extent of environmental disturbance, in particular turbidity. I found that changes in the visual environment had no impact on the development of female sexual ornaments in these sex-role reversed pipefishes, but it hampered adaptive mate choice. Turbidity also had a negative effect on reproductive success in the Baltic Sea population. Changes in the chemical environment in the form of increased pH reduced the probability to mate, while hypoxia did not alter mating propensity. However, hypoxic water delayed the onset of both courting and mating. Hence, human induced change in aquatic environments may alter the processes of sexual selection and population dynamics.

Sundin J., 2013. Sex in murky waters : anthropogenic disturbance of sexual selection in pipefish. PhD thesis, Uppsala University. Thesis (comprehensive summary).


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