Relative costs of courtship behaviours in nest-building sand gobies

Karin H. Olsson*, Charlotta Kvarnemo, Ola Svensson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Courting males often use multiple signals to advertise their quality to females. Assuming that courtship traits are energetically costly, one would expect a limit to the overall courtship effort of an individual and that a high courtship effort takes its toll on individual condition. We tested this experimentally using a small marine fish, the sand goby, Pomatoschistus minutus, whose males attract females through courtship displays and well-built nests (mussel shells covered with sand). At the end of a 5-day period of supplemental food, or repeatedly induced courtship or construction of nests (or none of these, as a control), we tested whether male display intensity, nest quality (nest cover and nest opening size) and body condition were affected. Males provided with food in excess were in significantly better condition and had significantly higher nest quality than control males. Display rate, however, was not significantly affected by feeding regime. Fish that had been manipulated to perform increased courtship or nest building did not suffer in terms of reduced condition, display rate or nest quality. However, individual fish that displayed intensely after treatment also built better-covered nests. Both of these traits are important in female choice. Moreover, fish that displayed intensely before the treatment continued to do so after treatment, a result that is compatible with signalling of genetic or phenotypic quality. Our results suggest that (1) nest cover is an honest signal of male condition, although we found no cost of nest building per se and (2) courtship display does not signal male condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-546
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Gobiidae
  • Pomatoschistus minutus
  • courtship
  • nest building
  • parental effort
  • paternal care
  • sand goby
  • sexual signalling


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