Natural variation in a testosterone-mediated trade-off between mating effort and parental effort.

Research paper by Joel W JW McGlothlin, Jodie M JM Jawor, Ellen D ED Ketterson

Indexed on: 04 Jan '08Published on: 04 Jan '08Published in: The American naturalist


Male birds frequently face a trade-off between acquiring mates and caring for offspring. Hormone manipulation studies indicate that testosterone often mediates this trade-off, increasing mating effort while decreasing parental effort. Little is known, however, about individual covariation between testosterone and relevant behavior on which selection might act. Using wild, male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), we measured individual variation in testosterone levels before and after standardized injections of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). The GnRH challenges have been shown to produce short-term testosterone increases that are similar to those produced naturally in response to social stimuli, repeatable in magnitude, and greater in males with more attractive ornaments. We correlated these testosterone increases with behavioral measures of mating and parental effort (aggressive response to a simulated territorial intrusion and nestling feeding, respectively). Males that showed higher postchallenge testosterone displayed more territorial behavior, and males that produced higher testosterone increases above initial levels displayed reduced parental behavior. Initial testosterone levels were positively but nonsignificantly correlated with aggression but did not predict parental behavior. These relationships suggest that natural variation in testosterone, specifically the production of short-term increases, may underlie individual variation in the mating effort/parental effort trade-off. We discuss the implications of these results for the evolution of hormonally mediated trade-offs.