Topeka shiners (Notropis topeka), an endangered minnow species, typically spawn on or around breeding Lepomis sunfish (Centrarchidae) nests. Why spawning Topeka shiners are attracted to these nests is unclear, but having the nesting sunfish provide shiner eggs with improved aeration, a lessening of siltation, and protection from egg predators are possibilities. We tested the substrate utilisation of Topeka shiners in outdoor tanks in the absence of sunfish to determine the shiner's fundamental choice. Shiners were provided with substrate patches of cleaned sand, small gravel, large gravel, and small cobble, and the bare floor of the tank. The substrate above which a male shiner established his territory was used as evidence of choice. A statistically significant choice for sand substrates was demonstrated. This fundamental choice might influence which sunfish nests Topeka shiners use, given that nest substrate characteristics differ both between sunfish species and within species by spawning site location. ?? 2009 John Wiley & Sons A/S.