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For pipefish, measly Mr. Mom needs help

Females add a nutritious boost to eggs that dad carries

If dad’s a dud among pipefish, mom may make it up to the kids with a shot of protein booster.

Female broad-nosed pipefish enhance their eggs with extra protein when researchers doom them to an undersized mate — a boost of some 11 percent higher protein than when paired with a large mate, says ecologist Gry Sagebakken of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In a reversal of the mammal manner, it’s the male pipefish that carries around embryos inside his body pouch after fertilization. He supplies some of his protein to the developing offspring, and previous research shows that larger males do tend to have larger offspring. So extra protein from mom may be compensating for an undersized dad, the researchers suggest in an upcoming issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This protein enhancement represents the first evidence from an explicit test among fish to see whether females compensate for loser males, Sagebakken says.

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