Paternal programming in sticklebacks

Laura R. Stein, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a wide range of organisms, including humans, mothers can influence offspring via the care they provide. Comparatively little is known about the effects of fathering on offspring. Here, we test the hypothesis that fathers are capable of programming their offspring for the type of environment they are likely to encounter. Male threespine sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, were either exposed to predation risk while fathering or not. Fathers altered their paternal behaviour when exposed to predation risk, and consequently produced adult offspring with phenotypes associated with strong predation pressure (smaller size, reduced body condition, reduced behavioural activity). Moreover, more attentive fathers produced offspring that showed stronger antipredator responses. These results are consistent with behaviourally mediated paternal programming: fathers can alter offspring phenotypes to match their future environment and influence offspring traits well into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-171
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • Behavioural development
  • Fathering
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Maternal effect
  • Parental effect
  • Paternal care
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Predation risk
  • Transgenerational plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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