Cheating and Selfishness in Reproductive Interactions among Nest Associative Cyprinids

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Virginia Tech

Mutualism is an understudied interaction in ecosystems throughout the world. Within the eastern United States, one fish-fish mutualism is the nest association between Nocomis and other cyprinids. I assessed the role of host parental care while testing for the selfish-herd effect. Additionally, I examined multiple nest associates in order to elucidate potential cheaters. I utilized gonadosomatic index (GSI) to compare reproductive condition among the bluehead chub Nocomis leptocephalus and its putative nest associates in Catawba Creek, Virginia. GSI of potentially obligate associates tracked host GSI more closely than weak associates, while weak associates spawned prior to Nocomis spawning. Given their GSI patterns and behavior, central stonerollers Campostoma anomalum may be cheaters in the interaction. I used multiple experiments to test for the selfish-herd effect, the role of parental care, and how relative risk influences reproductive decisions of associates. Most eggs were located in the bottom upstream quarter of nests, and a molecular analysis revealed that stonerollers and chubs constituted the majority of identified individuals. A comparison of host-associate ratios from four nest sections failed to identify the selfish herd effect. Another experiment found that host egg covering significantly reduced egg predation. Lastly, I assessed relative egg predation risk at four potential spawning locations; predation levels did not differ significantly at any location. While GSI patterns suggest that stonerollers may be cheaters, genetic evidence indicates that stonerollers spawn on Nocomis nests. Because GSI does not completely assess reproduction, secondary stoneroller reproduction on Nocomis nests may have been overlooked.

Nocomis, Mutualism, Nest Association, Gonadosomatic Index, Parental Care, Selfish Herd Effect, Cheating