Parental care is an advantageous reproductive behavior, as the fitness of the caregiver is increased through improving the chances of its offspring’s survival. Parental care occurs in a variety of teleost fishes. The body size of parental fish and the size of their brood can affect nest abandonment decisions, where compared with smaller fish with smaller broods, larger fish with larger broods typically invest more energy into reproductive events because they have less future reproductive potential. Although essential for basal metabolism and body maintenance functions, when glucocorticoid hormones (e.g., cortisol) are chronically elevated, as can occur during stress, fish may experience impairments in behavior and immune function, leading to compromised health and condition. Anthropogenic stressors during parental care can lead to elevated stress, therefore making it necessary to understand how stress influences an already-challenging period. Using smallmouth bass as a model, a gradient of body sizes, and experimentally manipulated brood size (i.e., reducing large broods and supplementing small broods) and cortisol levels (i.e., elevated via slow-release intraperitoneal cocoa butter implants containing cortisol versus controls), we tested the hypothesis that the reproductive success and parental care behaviors (i.e., aggression, nest tending) of nest-guarding male smallmouth bass are influenced by parental body size, brood size, and cortisol level. Overall, there was a relationship between cortisol treatment and nest success in which larger fish exhibited lower success when cortisol levels were elevated. Brood size had a significant effect on fish-tending behavior, independent of cortisol level and body size. Lending partial support to our hypothesis, the results of this study indicate that the reproductive success of guarding male smallmouth bass is influenced by cortisol level and that tending behavior is affected by brood size.

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Keywords Aggression, Cortisol, Glucocorticoid, Nest success, Nest tending, Smallmouth bass, Teleost
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Journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology
Algera, D.A. (Dirk A.), Gutowsky, L.F.G. (Lee F. G.), Zolderdo, A.J. (Aaron J.), & Cooke, S.J. (2017). Parental care in a stressful world: Experimentally elevated cortisol and brood size manipulation influence nest success probability and nest-tending behavior in a wild teleost fish. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 90(1), 85–95. doi:10.1086/689678