Mate Choice and Spawning Success in the Fighting Fish Betta splendens: the Importance of Body Size, Display Behavior and Nest Size
Courtship displays should be exaggerated enough to attract mates and yet tempered so as not to deter them. We tested this hypothesis in the fighting fish Betta splendens by studying courtship displays and body size and their relationships with male parental quality and female fecundity, as well as the effects of display behavior and body size on mate choice decisions and spawning success. Because of their high degree of parental investment, males are expected to be discriminating in their choice of mates. Males who displayed more frequently built larger nests, a measure of parental quality, but larger males did not. When females were paired with males with high display rates, however, the pair had fewer eggs in their nest, even when accounting for female body mass. In a mate choice test using computer-generated male stimuli that differed only in display behavior, females showed no preferences for displaying males vs. non-displaying males, or for males with higher display rates vs. lower display rates. In similar tests in which the computer-generated males differed only in size, females preferred larger males, but also preferred males that differed with respect to body size (negative assortative mating). Males preferred computer-generated females that performed courtship displays over non-displaying females, but showed no preferences for female body size. Neither a female's body size nor her display behavior was a significant predictor of her fecundity as estimated by the number of eggs released during spawning. Thus, our results suggest that female B. splendens must balance male parental quality (nest size) with the risk of potentially disruptive or dangerous behavior during spawning, and that females may minimize these risks through negative size-assortative mating. Female display behavior, while unrelated to fecundity in our study, may attract males because it indicates reproductive readiness or serves a species-recognition function.