Behavioral and physiological responses of a wild teleost fish to cortisol and androgen manipulation during parental care
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Proximate mediators of reproductive behaviors in vertebrates have a long history of study. In fishes, relatively few studies have focused on hormonal control of parental care, despite a comprehensive background on the general physiology of fishes, and the frequent occurrence of parental care behaviors. Studies on this taxon have repeatedly found that the relationships between androgens and paternal care do not follow the predictions made in the avian and mammalian literature. Glucocorticoids may also have a role in mediating parental behaviors, possibly through their role as regulators of metabolism. As such, we investigated the role of 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) and cortisol in mediating parental effort of male smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) by manipulating hormone titers in wild fish. In smallmouth bass, males spawn annually with a single female and defend a single brood for up to 30 days. Treatment of parental fish with cyproterone acetate (CYA; an androgen receptor antagonist) resulted in a decrease in nest defense in response to a simulated brood predator; however, no changes in nest success, nest tending or biochemical indicators of nutritional status were detected. Treatment with exogenous cortisol did not change parental behavior, but did increase the rate of nest failure, possibly owing to the energetic cost of chronically elevated cortisol concentrations. We discuss these findings in the context of resource-driven trade-offs and highlight life history as an important factor controlling parental effort in species with costly parental care behaviors.
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