The evolution of filial cannibalism and female mate choice strategies as resolutions to sexual conflict in fishes

Kai Lindström*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Filial cannibalism (the consumption of one's own viable offspring) is common among fish with paternal care. In this study, I use a computer simulation to study simultaneous evolution of male filial cannibalism and female mate choice. Under certain conditions, selection on parental males favors filial cannibalism. When filial cannibalism increases a male's probability to raise the current brood successfully, filial cannibalism also benefits the female. However, when egg eating is a male investment into future reproduction, a conflict between female and male interests emerges. Here I investigate how female discrimination against filial cannibals affects evolution of filial cannibalism and how different female choice criteria perform against filial cannibalism. The introduction of discriminating females makes the fixation of filial cannibalism less likely. I introduced three different female choice criteria: (1) females who could discern a male's genotype, that is, whether the male was going to eat eggs as an investment in future reproductive events; (2) energy-choosing females that preferred to mate with males who had enough energy reserves to live through the current brood cycle without consuming eggs; and (3) females that preferred to mate with already mated males, that is, males with eggs in their nest. Genotype choice never coexisted with filial cannibals at fixation and filial cannibals were unable to invade a population with genotype-choosing females. Energy choice was successful only when males had high energy reserves and were less dependent on filial cannibalism as an alternative energy source. The egg choosers frequently coexisted with the cannibals at fixation. When the female strategies were entered simultaneously, the most frequent outcome for low mate sampling costs was that both the cannibals and the egg choice was fixed and all other strategies went extinct. These results suggest that sexual conflicts may not always evolve toward a resolution of the conflict, but sometimes the stable state retains the conflict. In the present case, this was because the egg-preference strategy had a higher fitness than the other female strategies. The outcome of this simulation is similar to empirical findings. In fish with paternal care, male filial cannibalism and female preference for mates with eggs commonly co-occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-627
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2000
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Egg preference
  • Energy reserves
  • Mate sampling
  • Residual reproductive value
  • Sexual selection


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