3 years ago

Social context decouples the relationship between a sexual ornament and testosterone levels in a male wild bird

In order to maximise fitness individuals should adjust their level of signalling according to their surrounding social environment. However, field experiments showing such adjustment of current signalling associated to changes in social context are lacking. Here, we manipulated levels of male aggressive- and dominance-related displays in a wild bird in our treated area by increasing testosterone levels using implants in a subset of males. We then compared the expression of sexual signals (i.e. comb size) between non-treated red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus males from control and treatment areas. We further explored the potential endocrinological mechanism linking social environment and signal expression by analysing testosterone levels in all males. Our treatment successfully increased overall aggressive- and dominance-related behaviours in the treatment area. Furthermore, testosterone-implanted birds increased their comb size as repeatedly shown in previous studies in male red grouse. Interestingly, untreated males living in the treatment area decreased their comb size, whilst increasing testosterone levels. Since comb size is a signal of dominance, untreated males from the treatment area may have perceived themselves as subordinate individuals and decreased their signalling levels to avoid confrontations with testosterone-treated, dominant individuals. In conclusion, our findings show that social context has the potential to regulate sexual signalling and testosterone levels. Our results highlight the role of social context when exploring the link between testosterone and behaviour, as it may reverse the relationship between both traits. Our results suggest that social context affects signalling and testosterone independently.


► We manipulated the social context in a wild bird by means of testosterone implants. ► We analysed the expression of sexual signals and testosterone levels. ► Untreated males living in the treatment-area decreased their levels of sexual signalling. ► Untreated males living in the treatment-area increased their testosterone levels.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0018506X12001791

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