ABS 2022
Understanding coping styles in a fish species with alternative reproductive tactics
Sunishka Thakur, Ngoc Tuyet Tra, Elena Adams, Molly Cummings. Univeristy of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States

Many organisms exhibit alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs) but do they also diverge in traits beyond mating behaviors? Here we investigate whether males with distinctive ARTs in a northern swordtail, Xiphophorus nigrensis, also have distinctive coping styles. Large male swordtails court females, while small males chase and coerce females. Coping styles are a set of behavioral and physiological responses to stress that are often grouped into two categories: proactive and reactive. Proactive animals tend to be bolder, have lower basal and post-stress cortisol; whereas reactive animals are more anxious with higher levels of cortisol and higher cognitive flexibility. Using a test for boldness (scototaxis), we show that small males are bolder than large males. In addition, we are measuring aggression, stress response (cortisol levels pre- and post- acute stress), as well as a reversal learning assay to measure cognitive flexibility in these fish to understand whether coping styles are associated with mating behavior. This study will investigate whether sexual selection that gives rise to ARTs also has downstream consequences on non-reproductive behavioral and physiological traits.