Sex differences in energetic costs explain sexual dimorphism in the circadian rhythm modulation of the electrocommunication signal of the gymnotiform fish Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus

J Exp Biol. 2008 Mar;211(Pt 6):1012-20. doi: 10.1242/jeb.014795.


To understand the evolution of sexually dimorphic communication signals, we must quantify their costs, including their energetic costs, the regulation of these costs, and the difference between the costs for the sexes. Here, we provide the first direct measurements of the relative energy expended on electric signals and show for the focal species Brachyhypopomus pinnicaudatus that males spend a significantly greater proportion of their total energy budget on signal generation (11-22%) compared with females (3%). Both sexes significantly reduce the energy spent on electric signals during daylight hours through circadian modulation of the amplitude, duration and repetition rate of the electric signal, but this effect is more marked in males. Male body condition predicted the energy spent on electric signals (R(2)=0.75). The oxygen consumed by males for signal production closely paralleled the product of the electric signal's waveform area (R(2)=0.99) and the discharge rate (R(2)=0.59), two signal parameters that can be assessed directly by conspecifics. Thus the electric communication signal of males carries the information to reveal their body condition to prospective mates and competing males. Because the electric signal constitutes a significant fraction of the energy budget, energy savings, along with predation avoidance, provides an adaptive basis for the production of circadian rhythms in electric signals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Electric Organ / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Gymnotiformes / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Signal Transduction