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Testing hormonal responses to real and simulated social challenges in a competitive female bird

Citation

George, Elizabeth; Wolf, Sarah; Bentz, Alexandra; Rosvall, Kimberly (2021), Testing hormonal responses to real and simulated social challenges in a competitive female bird, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.7wm37pvtm

Abstract

Competitive interactions often occur in series; therefore animals may respond to social challenges in ways that prepare them for success in future conflict. Changes in the production of the steroid hormone testosterone (T) are thought to mediate phenotypic responses to competition, but research over the past few decades has yielded mixed results, leading to several potential explanations as to why T does not always elevate following a social challenge. Here, we measured T levels in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), a system in which females compete for limited nesting cavities and female aggression is at least partially mediated by T. We experimentally induced social challenges in two ways: (1) using decoys to simulate territorial intrusions and (2) removing subsets of nesting cavities to increase competition among displaced and territory-holding females. Critically, these experiments occurred pre-laying, when females are physiologically capable of rapidly increasing circulating T levels. However, despite marked aggression in both experiments, T did not elevate following real or simulated social challenges, and in some cases, socially-challenged females had lower T levels than controls. Likewise, the degree of aggression was negatively correlated with T levels following a simulated territorial intrusion. Though not in line with the idea that social challenges prompt T elevation in preparation for future challenges, these patterns nevertheless connect T to territorial aggression in females. Coupled with past work showing that T promotes aggression, these results suggest that T may act rapidly to allow animals to adaptively respond to the urgent demands of a competitive event.

Methods

Collection and processing of the data described in detail in the manuscript "Testing hormonal responses to real and simulated social challenges in a competitive female bird" by George et al., 2021 Behavioural Ecology.

Funding

National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1656109

National Institutes of Health, Award: T32HD049336