Dominance hierarchies and associated signalling in a cooperative passerine
Many species base their choice of mates on multiple signals which provide them with different kinds of information. Choosers may assess the signals together to evaluate the overall quality of potential mates, but individuals often pay attention to different signals in different contexts. In Rhinogobius brunneus, a fish displaying exclusive male parental care, females generally prefer males showing larger first dorsal fins (FDF) and more active courtship displays as mates. Females choosing a mate usually initially assess the FDF and later utilize courtship for the final decision. In our experiments, females with different hunger states used different signals when selecting mates. Females in both hunger states preferred males with larger FDF in the first stage. In the second stage, well-fed females showed highly repeatable choice, whereas poorly fed females responded only to variation in the courtship activity of males. The males preferred by poorly fed females exhibited significantly higher offspring survival than nonpreferred males. Under conditions of food shortage, males allocate more energy to future reproduction at the expense of the present brood, and females may prioritize signals predictive of offspring survivorship over signals reflecting other aspects in male quality to minimize the losses in direct benefits. We conclude that R. brunneus females may employ information from both signals but dynamically adjust their prioritization of each signal to current conditions to ensure the choice that is currently most adaptive.