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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Patterns of sex-biased dispersal are consistent with social and ecological constraints in a group-living cichlid fish

Bose, Aneesh P. H.; Koch, Lukas; Dabernig-Heinz, Johanna; Grimm, Jacqueline; Sefc, Kristina M.; Jordan, Alex


Background Sex-biased dispersal is a common and widespread phenomenon that can fundamentally shape the genetic structure of the social environments in which animals live. For animals that live in and move between social groups, sex-biased dispersal can result in an asymmetry in the degree of relatedness among cohabiting males and females, which can have strong implications for their social evolution. In this study, we measured the relatedness structure within and across groups of a wild population of Neolamprologus multifasciatus, a highly-social, shell-dwelling cichlid fish endemic to Lake Tanganyika, East Africa. In total, we genotyped 812 fish from 128 social groups at 20 microsatellite loci. Neolamprologus multifasciatus live at high densities, and also experience strong ecological constraints on free movement throughout their habitat. At the same time, they exhibit sex differences in the degree of reproductive competition within their groups and this makes them an excellent model system for studying the factors associated with sex-biased dispersal. Results Social groups of N. multifasciatus consist of multiple males and females living together. We found that cohabiting females were unrelated to one another (Lynch-Ritland estimates of relatedness = 0.045 +/- 0.15, average +/- SD), while males shared much higher, albeit variable, levels of relatedness to other males in their groups (0.23 +/- 0.27). We uncovered a pronounced decline in relatedness between males living in separate groups as the spatial separation between them increased, a pattern that was not evident in females. Female dispersal was also markedly constrained by the distribution and availability of nearby territories to which they could emigrate. Conclusions Our results indicate female-biased dispersal in N. multifasciatus. Our study also highlights how the spatial distribution of suitable dispersal destinations can influence the movement decisions of animals. We also emphasize how sex-biased dispersal can influence the relatedness structure of the social environment in which individuals interact and compete with one another.


Relatedness estimators; Microsatellite genotyping; African cichlid; Habitat saturation; Cooperation; Social conflict; Population structure; Ecological constraints

Published in

BMC ecology and evolution
2022, Volume: 22, number: 1, article number: 21
Publisher: BMC

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Behavioral Sciences Biology

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