Reflectance spectra from free-swimming sticklebacks (Gasterosteus): Social context and eye-jaw contrast

Victor N. Rush, Jeffrey S. McKinnon, Michael A. Abney, R. Craig Sargent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The color patterns of many organisms change rapidly with social context but such dynamic signals have been little studied with current methods. In this study we applied objective spectrophotometry techniques to the color displays of unrestrained male threespine sticklebacks, to assess the influence of social context on coloration. Analyzing our data with a color space model based on stickleback visual physiology, we found that unrestrained males enhanced saturation of both their blue eye and red jaw color in response to the presence of a mature male or female conspecific. Divergence between the eye and the jaw lead to enhanced contrast, likely increasing conspicuousness. We found little relationship between measures of color saturation and condition, but the color of males in better condition varied more with social context. This study is the first to evaluate contrast between stickleback color pattern elements quantitatively and the first in which reflectance spectra were collected from free-swimming fish. The methods presented here could be used in future studies of sticklebacks and could potentially be adapted to other animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1019
Number of pages17
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Aug 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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