Pre-GnRH and GnRH-induced testosterone levels do not vary across behavioral contexts: a role for individual variation.

Research paper by Medhavi M Ambardar, Jennifer L JL Grindstaff

Indexed on: 23 Mar '17Published on: 23 Mar '17Published in: General and Comparative Endocrinology


Hormones can facilitate the expression of behavior, but relatively few studies have considered individual variation and repeatability in hormone-behavior relationships. Repeated measures of hormones are valuable because repeatability in hormone levels might be a mechanism that drives repeatability in behavior ("personality"). Testosterone is predicted to promote territorial aggression and suppress parental behaviors. In our population of eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), parental care and nest defense aggression toward a heterospecific are repeatable. We tested the hypothesis that repeatability of testosterone levels within individuals underlies repeatable behaviors observed in our population. We measured nestling provisioning and aggressive nest defense against a heterospecific. After behavioral observations we captured either the male or female bluebird, and determined initial testosterone levels and maximum capacity of the gonads to secrete testosterone by injecting gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). We found among-individual variation in initial testosterone levels for males and females. Individual males were repeatable in both initial and GnRH-induced testosterone levels across behavioral contexts, while individual females were repeatable in GnRH-induced testosterone levels. However, testosterone levels were not significantly related to parental or nest defense behaviors, suggesting that repeatable testosterone levels may not drive repeatable parental and heterospecific nest defense behaviors in this population. The absence of a relationship between testosterone and parental and heterospecific nest defense behaviors might be due to among-individual variation in testosterone levels. Considering the sources of variation in testosterone levels may reveal why some populations exhibit high individual variation in hormone levels.