Social instability promotes hormone-behavior associated patterns in a cichlid fish
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Androgens are known to respond to social challenges and to control the expression of social behavior and reproductive traits, such as gonadal maturation and sperm production, expression of secondary sex characters and reproductive behaviors. According to the challenge hypothesis variation in androgen levels above a breeding baseline should be explained by the regime of social challenges faced by the individual considering the trade-offs of androgens with other traits (e.g. parental care). One prediction that can be derived from the challenge hypothesis is that androgen levels should increase in response to social instability. Moreover, considering that a tighter association of relevant traits is expected in periods of environmental instability, we also predict that in unstable environments the degree of correlations among different behaviors should increase and hormones and behavior should be associated. These predictions were tested in a polygamous cichlid fish (Mozambique tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus) with exclusive maternal care. Social instability was produced by swapping dominant males among groups. Stable treatment consisted in removing and placing back dominant males in the same group, in order to control for handling stress. Cortisol levels were also measured to monitor stress levels involved in the procedure and their relation to the androgen patterns and behavior. As predicted androgen levels increased in males in response to the establishment of a social hierarchy and presence of receptive females. However, there were no further differential increases in androgen levels over the social manipulation phase between social stable and social unstable groups. As predicted behaviors were significantly more correlated among themselves in the unstable than in the stable treatment and an associated hormone-behavior pattern was only observed in the unstable treatment. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.