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Abstract

The sex allocation pattern of various populations of spotted sand bass are thought to vary from functional gonochorism to strict protogyny. The development of hypotheses explaining how such a plastic (flexible) strategy has been maintained selectively has been hindered by a general lack of information on reproductive behavior in this species. Therefore, the spawning behavior of adult, wild-caught spotted sand bass were observed in captivity under a variety of densities. Three distinct spawning modes were observed: 1) pair spawning, 2) group spawning, and 3) spawning including a sneaker male. Courtship was characterized by the following sequence: 1) a male or males approach the females, 2) one or more males make contact with the ventro-lateral surface of the female and chase the female, 3) the male contacts the ventro-lateral surface of the female and pushes her through a vertical spawning rush. Spawning behavior involved ephemeral color changes, persistent physical contact initiated by the male, short rushes beginning near structure and ending in a vertical rush with a gamete release. In general, in low density groups, reproductive activity was dominated by a single male that actively excluded smaller males from spawning. The dominant male in these groups exclusively engaged in pair spawning. Individuals in groups of higher density spawned in groups, with no observations of large males monopolizing females. These observations are consistent with the predictions of the size-advantage hypothesis regarding mating strategies in fishes. We propose that these three spawning modes and the frequency with which they occur allow the flexibility seen in the mating strategies of isolated populations of spotted sand bass.

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