Life history trade-offs and behavioral sensitivity to testosterone: an experimental test when female aggression and maternal care co-occur.

Research paper by Kimberly A KA Rosvall

Indexed on: 24 Jan '13Published on: 24 Jan '13Published in: PloS one


Research on male animals suggests that the hormone testosterone plays a central role in mediating the trade-off between mating effort and parental effort. However, the direct links between testosterone, intrasexual aggression and parental care are remarkably mixed across species. Previous attempts to reconcile these patterns suggest that selection favors behavioral insensitivity to testosterone when paternal care is essential to reproductive success and when breeding seasons are especially short. Females also secrete testosterone, though the degree to which similar testosterone-mediated trade-offs occur in females is much less clear. Here, I ask whether testosterone mediates trade-offs between aggression and incubation in females, and whether patterns of female sensitivity to testosterone relate to female life history, as is often the case in males. I experimentally elevated testosterone in free-living, incubating female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), a songbird with a short breeding season during which female incubation and intrasexual aggression are both essential to female reproductive success. Testosterone-treated females showed significantly elevated aggression, reduced incubation temperatures, and reduced hatching success, relative to controls. Thus, prolonged testosterone elevation during incubation was detrimental to reproductive success, but females nonetheless showed behavioral sensitivity to testosterone. These findings suggest that the relative importance of both mating effort and parental effort may be central to understanding patterns of behavioral sensitivity in both sexes.