Conflicts of interest within and between the sexes are important processes leading to variability in mating systems. The behavioral interactions mediating conflict are little documented. We studied pairs and harems of the snail-shell inhabiting cichlid fish Lamprologus ocellatus in the laboratory. Due to their larger size, males controlled the resource that limited breeding: snail shells. Males were able to choose among females ready to spawn. Females were only accepted if they produced a clutch within a few days of settling. When several females attempted to settle simultaneously the larger female settled first. Females were least aggressive when guarding eggs. Secondary females were more likely to settle when the primary female was guarding eggs. In established harems females continued to be aggressive against each other. The male intervened in about 80% of female aggressive interactions. Male intervention activity correlated with the frequency of aggression among the females in his harem. The male usually attacked the aggressor and chased her back to her own snail shell. When a male was removed from his harem, aggression between females increased immediately and usually the secondary female was expelled by the primary female within a few days. Time to harem break-up was shorter the more mobile the primary females´ young were and did not correlate with the size difference between harem females. Male L. ocellatus interfere actively in female conflict and keep the harem together against female interests. Female conflict presumably relates to the cost of sharing male parental investment and to the potential of predation by another female´s large juveniles on a female's own small juveniles.
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