Sex in murky waters: algal-induced turbidity increases sexual selection in pipefish
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Algal-induced turbidity has been shown to alter several important aspects of reproduction and sexual selection. However, while turbidity has been shown to negatively affect reproduction and sexually selected traits in some species, it may instead enhance reproductive success in others, implying that the impact of eutrophication is far more complex than originally believed. In this study, we aimed to provide more insight into these inconsistent findings. We used molecular tools to investigate the impact of algal turbidity on reproductive success and sexual selection on males in controlled laboratory experiments, allowing mate choice, mating competition, and mate encounter rates to affect reproduction. As study species, we used the broad-nosed pipefish, Syngnathus typhle, a species practicing male pregnancy and where we have previously shown that male mate choice is impaired by turbidity. Here, turbidity instead enhanced sexual selection on male size and mating success as well as reproductive success. Effects from mating competition and mate encounter rates may thus override effects from mate choice based on visual cues, producing an overall stronger sexual selection in turbid waters. Hence, seemingly inconsistent effects of turbidity on sexual selection may depend on which mechanisms of sexual selection that have been under study. Significance statement Algal blooms are becoming increasingly more common due to eutrophication of freshwater and marine environments. The high density of algae lowers water transparency and reduces the possibility for fish and other aquatic animals to perform behaviors dependent on vision. We have previously shown that pipefish are unable to select the best partner in mate choice trials when water transparency was reduced. However, fish might use other senses than vision to compensate for the reduction in water transparency. In this study, we found that when fish were allowed to freely interact, thereby allowing competition between partners and direct contact between the fish, the best partner was indeed chosen. Hence, the negative effects of reduced water visibility due to algal blooms may be counteracted by the use of other senses in fish.