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Seeing orange: breeding convict cichlids exhibit heightened aggression against more colorful intruders

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convict cichlid, carotenoid, aggression, color, sexual dimorphism

Abstract (summary)

Female convict cichlids (Amatitlania siquia) exhibit bright orange ventral coloration that males lack. The behavioral implications of this color are poorly understood, particularly in naturally occurring populations where female coloration could play a role in the expression of territorial nest-guarding behaviors. In this field experiment, monogamous breeding pairs of convict cichlids were presented with 3D printed model conspecific intruders of three body sizes (small, medium, and large) exhibiting three orange patch sizes (large, small, or none) to observe how territorial aggression varied as a function of intruder size and female coloration. Individuals occupying breeding pairs that were defending hatched offspring were significantly more aggressive toward intruders with small and large amounts of orange than toward models lacking orange, indicating that color is an important contextdependent elicitor of aggression in this species. Males were significantly more aggressive toward the intruder than females, and male aggression was strongly influenced by their size relative to the intruder. When males were smaller than the intruder, they performed significantly more aggressive acts than when they were the same size or larger than the intruder; this trend persisted across three putative populations in Lake Xiloa, Nicaragua. A potential explanation for these findings is that the orange color functions as a signal of individual quality or breeding readiness and that breeding pairs increase aggression to repel intruders that pose the greatest threat to pair bond and nest maintenance.

Publication Information

Anderson, C., Jones, R., Moscicki, M.K., Clotfelter, E. & Earley, R.L. (2015). Seeing orange: breeding convict cichlids exhibit heightened aggression against more colorful intruders. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 70(5), 647-657.


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