Effects of maternal stress on egg characteristics in a cooperatively breeding fish
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Elevated stress experienced by a mother can compromise both her own reproductive success and that of her offspring. In this study, we investigated whether chronically stressed mothers experienced such effects in cooperatively breeding species, in which helpers at the nest potentially compound the negative effects of maternal stress. Using Neolamprologus pulcher, a group-living cichlid fish from Lake Tanganyika, we observed the effects of experimentally increased stress on female reproductive success (measured as inter-spawn interval, and number of eggs) as well as egg characteristics including egg size and cortisol concentrations. Stress levels were manipulated by repeated exposure to the acute stresses of chasing and netting. Stressed females had longer inter-spawn intervals and laid fewer, smaller eggs. Although no significant differences in egg cortisol concentrations were detected between control and stressed females, egg cortisol concentration fell between spawns in control but not in stressed fish. No effect of helper number was detected for any parameter examined, except there appeared to be less change in egg cortisol content in groups with helpers present. Our results suggest that stress imposes fitness costs on breeding females, and social regulation of a dominance hierarchy does not appear to exacerbate or alleviate the negative effects of maternal stress.
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