Father's Day: Dads show plenty of (stickle)back-bone

Posted by er134 at Jun 14, 2013 09:45 AM |
Male stickleback fish deserve extra praise this Father’s Day, in light of findings by University of Leicester researchers

This Father’s Day, spare a thought for three-spined stickleback fish – who may have been having a tough time this year, according to Leicester biologists.

Dr Iain Barber (pictured), Head of the University of Leicester’s Department of Biology, is leading a study of three-spined sticklebacks’ nesting habits.

The fish, which live in the sea as well as in lakes and rivers, build their nests during the spring – and unlike many other nesting animals, it is the fathers, rather than mothers, who are responsible for nest building and parental care until the fish are strong enough to swim away.

Unable to put their feet up like most Dads this Sunday, the severe rainfall experienced across Europe during the spring months, which is when the fish build their nests, is likely to have made this task much more difficult.

The males build nests from algae, sand and debris, which they glue together using a protein called “spiggin”, formed in their kidneys. To ensure that the nests are strong enough to withstand the heavier currents, they must produce more of this glue, which uses up more energy.

Dr Barber and his team are observing the fish in their laboratory to see how their behaviour changes for different water flow rates, and are being careful to ensure the conditions are within the spectrum of what the fish would experience in their natural environments.

The good news is - the fish appear to be adapting very well.

Three-spined sticklebacks are regarded as something of an evolutionary “supermodel” due to their remarkable ability to adapt to environmental change.

You can catch Dr Iain Barber and the stickleback Dad's on BBC's The One Show here

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