Androgens and dominance: Sex-specific patterns in a highly social fish (Neolamprologus pulcher)
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In most vertebrates, aggression and dominance are tightly linked to circulating testosterone. Fish, however, have two androgens (testosterone, T and 11-ketotestosterone, 11KT) that influence aggression and dominance. To date, few studies have compared the relationship between androgen levels and the outcome of aggressive contests in both females and males of the same species. To investigate sex differences in androgens we staged size-matched, limited-resource (territory) contests with 14 female-female and 10 male-male pairs of the highly social cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher. We then examined androgen levels in recently established dominants, who won the contest and subsequently acquired a territory (for 3h), and subordinates, who lost and did not acquire a territory. Newly dominant females had higher plasma T but similar 11KT levels to newly subordinate females. In contrast, newly dominant males had higher 11KT but similar T levels to subordinate males. The ratio of 11KT to T, which demonstrates physiological importance of T conversion to 11KT, was positively correlated with submissive behavior in female winners, and correlated weakly with aggressive behavior in male winners (p=0.05). These findings provide support for the hypothesis that different androgens play equivalent roles in female versus male dominance establishment, and suggest that relative levels of 11KT and T are implicated in female dominance behavior and perhaps behavior of both sexes.
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