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Social status determines sexual phenotype in the bi-directional sex changing bluebanded goby Lythrypnus dalli

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The behavioural mechanisms and patterns of protandrous sex change in bluebanded gobies Lythrypnus dalli were investigated and compared to the well-described behaviour patterns of protogynous sex change. To do this, unisex groups of males and females were established; behavioural and anatomical changes were recorded over a 42 day period as social status and sexual phenotype were determined. In all cases, social status, rather than the expression of a particular behaviour, accurately predicted final sexual phenotype. Rates of submissive behaviour, but not aggressive behaviour, were predictive of each discrete status class. Multiple individuals changed sex simultaneously if their sexual phenotype and social status were discordant, a novel finding suggesting that once a social hierarchy is established, individuals determined their sexual phenotype, regardless of initial sex, based on a simple operational principle: if subordinate express female, if dominant or not subordinate express male. This work demonstrates that similar mechanisms underlie sex change in both directions in L. dalli and potentially other sex changing species.

Keywords: phenotypic plasticity; protandry; protogyny; social status

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, California State University, Fresno, 2555 East San Ramon Ave. M/S SB73 Fresno, CA 93740, U.S.A. 2: Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Biology, Georgia State University, P. O. Box 4010, Atlanta, GA 30303-3088, U.S.A.

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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