Egg trading between hermaphroditic fish: Why would you give when you can just take? | 2/5/2018 | Staff
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The sex life of hermaphroditic animals is determined by one fundamental question: Who assumes the female role and produces the costly eggs? Hamlets avoid this dilemma by engaging in reciprocal egg trading. Scientists have now used microeconomic models to analyze the circumstances required for this complex system of trading to work. Their results have been published in The American Naturalist.

The hamlets that live in coral reefs in the Caribbean are hermaphrodites. One of their mating strategies is to pass eggs on to each other. Here, the role of the sperm donor is preferable because producing eggs requires more energy. If both animals adopt the two roles successively when mating with the same partner, neither is at a disadvantage—it's a fair deal.

Populations - Serranidae - Family - Trading - Kind

Other populations from the Serranidae family do not engage in trading of this kind. Instead, they pass their eggs on unconditionally when they encounter an individual of the same species who is available for mating.

Reciprocal egg trading is presumably not an original evolutionary strategy, as the exchange is reliant on complex reciprocal behavior. An interdisciplinary team of researchers has now investigated the factors that could be responsible for the evolution of egg trading in hamlets—but not in other Serranidae.

Researchers - Model - Account - Type - Behavior

For this, the researchers developed a model that takes account of a third type of behavior that can undermine the success of the egg trading strategy: one of the two fish—the "cheater"—pretends to want to reciprocate by providing eggs of their own, but then withdraws from the trade after fertilizing their partner's eggs.

Professor Georg Noeldeke, an economist at the University of Basel, is an expert in game theory. "Game theory asks...
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