Cichlid (Schädelin Lab)

Research Project

Inducing cooperative breeding: ecological constraints and flexibility of fish breeding systems

In this project we manipulate ecological factors and hormones to attempt to induce cooperative breeding and polygyny in a non-cooperative, monogamous fish, the Neolamprologus caudopunctatus. We perform parallel experiments with the congeneric, sympatric species Neolamprologus pulcher, which is both cooperative and polygynous. Our experiments are designed to sequentially determine key factors that permit or constrain the two breeding systems.

Team
Filipa Cunha-Saraiva 1 1
Sigal Balshine 2
Richard H. Wagner 3
Franziska C. Schädelin 4

Thesis Projects

Effects of early life social experience on growth and the acquisition of social competence in Neolamprologus caudopunctatus
The social environment an animal is exposed during its ontogeny often influences its behavioural and morphological phenotype. In group living animals, the development of adaptive strategies and tactics to deal with the recurrent social interactions may help an individual to safe time or energy. Such strategies based on individual experiences early in life may also shape its adult social behaviour. The aim of these experiments is to investigate if high social competence, such as cooperative breeding, appeasement and conflict solving strategies can be learned or if it’s genetically determined by cross-fostering Neolamprologus caudopunctatus offspring with Neolamprologus pulcher offspring of the same age.

Team
Filipa Cunha-Saraiva 1
Dominik Märzinger
Marion Varga
Franziska C. Schädelin 4

Do hormones modulate the inhibition of egg cannibalism behaviour in Neolamprologus caudopunctatus and Neolamprologus pulcher?
The aim of the experiments is to investigate the hormonal mechanisms underlying parental care behaviours in fishes, using two cichlid species, Neolamprologus pulcher and Neolamprologus caudopunctatus.

Team
Filipa Cunha-Saraiva 1
Sigal Balshine 2
Franziska C. Schädelin 4

Dear enemy effects in Neolamprologus caudopunctatus
The “dear enemy” effect describes a territory owner’s ability to discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar territory neighbours, which leads to differences in the expression of territorial defence. That is, familiar neighbours are more tolerated than unfamiliar ones, which will translate into different degrees of aggression. The aim is to assess if paired N. caudopunctatus, on their own territory, adjust their behavioural response towards familiar and unfamiliar neighbours.

Team
Filipa Cunha-Saraiva 1
Cäcilia Faltin
Franziska C. Schädelin 4

Strategical and tactical fighting decisions in Neolamprologus caudopunctatus
Whenever two or more animals claim the same resource and resolve this conflict by open aggressive interactions a resource contest occurs. Tactical and strategical decisions in contests allow the fighters to minimize the risk of injury and maximize simultaneously the benefit of contest behaviour. In this project we will assess the tactical and strategical decisions of the cichlid species N. caudopunctatus in a resource contest depending on the familiarity of the opponent.

Team
Filipa Cunha-Saraiva 1
Eva Wagner
Sigal Balshine 2
Franziska C. Schädelin 4

Potential future projects

We are searching for motivated students who would like to do their master thesis on Lake Tanganyika cichlids. In our current project we aim to investigate the ecological, developmental and endocrinological parameters that might permit the expression of cooperative behaviour in a non-cooperative species, using two closely related species: Neolamprologus pulcher (Cooperative breeder) and Neolamprologus caudopunctatus (Biparental breeder).

  1. Do parents recognize heterospecific eggs by their smell?
  2. Is sand transport behaviour outside of the nest an anti-predator behaviour or a courtship behaviour in N. caudopunctatus?
  3. Is social competence of adult fish influenced by the social experience early life?
  4. Does early social experience influence the learning abilities as an adult?

We are searching for highly motivated, hard-working students that are interested in scientific questions and fish biology and can work independently as well as within a team. We offer participation in all stages of a scientific project and the chance to learn about experimental designs, behavioural recording, statistical analyses and scientific writing. Our daily communication is mainly in English; good English skills are therefore a plus. Our institute, the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, is part of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and is located at the Wilhelminenberg in the 16th district.

If you are interested or have any further questions please don´t hesitate to contact filipa.cunha-saraiva(at)vetmeduni.ac.at or +43 01 25077-7419