Doctoral Thesis

The behavioural ecology of aggression in Lake Malawi haplochromine cichlid fish

Dr Gavan M Cooke

Aggression is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom and a major field of investigation within the area of behavioural ecology. The haplochromine cichlid fish have been used extensively in studies relating not only to the behavioural ecology of aggression but also with respect to how aggression may play a role in the spectacular diversity found within the African Great Lakes. In the first half of this thesis, I investigate the nature of aggression within the rock dwelling fish of Lake Malawi. Aggression biases within polymorphic populations are initially investigated with field work determining the consequences of rare morph advantage. This is followed by experiments determining which cues males and females may use; lastly a pair of recently diverged allopatric species is studied to determine what may happen should secondary contact occur. The second half of this thesis focuses on the behavioural ecology of female aggression. Females exhibiting the ancestral condition of post brood care are compared to a species with the more derived condition of no post release care. Non-maternal aggression is investigated with comparisons of the type of behaviour used by males and females. When and why females are aggressive is also investigated. The results of this thesis suggest that overall a common morph bias may exist in some populations and the consequences are manifested in a rare morph advantage. Colour is important in aggression biases but potentially not limited to the dorsal region. Females and males use different kinds of aggressive behaviours and brooding females are able to vary levels of aggression towards different types of threat.