Circulating androgens are influenced by parental nest defense in a wild teleost fish
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While social interactions influence vertebrate endocrine regulation, the dynamics of regulation in relation to specific behaviors have not been clearly elucidated. In the current study, we investigated whether androgens (testosterone) or glucocorticoids (cortisol) play a functional role in aggressive offspring defense behavior in wild smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), a teleost fish with sole paternal care. We measured circulating testosterone and cortisol concentrations in plasma samples taken from parental males following a simulated nest intrusion by a common nest predator, the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). To understand whether endocrine regulation changes across the parental care period, we looked both at males guarding fresh eggs and at males guarding hatched embryos. Plasma testosterone levels increased in males subjected to a simulated nest intrusion when compared to sham controls. Testosterone concentrations in males guarding embryos were lower than in males guarding fresh eggs, but circulating testosterone was positively correlated with the level of aggression towards the nest predator at both offspring development stages. However, there was no increase in cortisol levels following a simulated nest intrusion, and no relationship between cortisol and any measured parameter. These results suggest that androgens play an important role in promoting aggressive nest defense behavior in teleost fish.
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