Efficacy of Playback Video Use in Eliciting Courtship Behavior in Male Threespine Stickleback Fish

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology



Chief Instructor

Susan A. Foster

Second Reader

John A. Baker

Third Reader

Philip Bergmann


Playback videos have been increasingly used to study visual communication in animals due to technological advancements as well as increased accessibility. Though this method has been commonly used for a diversity of animals, it is important to evaluate the efficacy of this method for each species as well as for each specific topic of behavior. This experiment was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of playback video use in eliciting courtship behaviors in male threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Reproductive laboratory-reared males were presented with a live gravid female and a video gravid female in succession, and monitored for behavior during stimulus exposure time. Specific behaviors such as zigzags, lunges, spitting, fanning and creeping through the nest were scored for number of occurrences (Table 1). Behavior was also scored for focal points of interest, providing durations of time males spent inspecting the stimulus (closely and from a distance), hiding, nesting, or participating in other activities (Table 1). This experiment evaluated males from one oceanic population, one limnetic population, and one benthic population. Though specific behaviors were too infrequent to assess, there were notable differences between populations. Limnetic Sproat males spent the most time closely inspecting stimuli and the shortest time inspecting stimuli from a distance. The opposite trend was seen in oceanic Buccaneer males, with benthic Dougan males falling in between. Most importantly, there were notable differences between stimulus type. Males spent longer closely inspecting the live female compared to the video female, and males spent less time inspecting live females from a distance and more time distantly inspecting video females. Males may prefer to spend more time closely inspecting the live female because they receive more realistic and engaging cues from the live stimulus. Males may spend a longer duration of time distantly inspecting the video stimulus because it may appear less realistic and more difficult to visually discern; taking longer to initiate enough interest from the male to shift to close inspection status. Overall, this experiment demonstrates that playback videos of gravid females did not elicit behaviors in male threespine stickleback fish similar to those elicited from live females.