Novelty of the arena impairs the cortisol-related increase in the aggression of matrinxa (Brycon amazonicus)
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The dichotomic effect of a cortisol level rise in vertebrate behavior has been widely observed. Generally, a chronic increase of the hormone level inhibits aggression, while an acute rise increases aggression. However, in this study, we show that this increase in aggression through an acute rise of cortisol also depends on the context in which the agonistic interaction occurs in the tropical fish matrinxa, Brycon amazonicus. We combined two factors: the type of housing (resident or non-resident in the trial arena) and the level of cortisol at the beginning of the fight (normal level control, or high level hydrocortisone-treated fish). The cortisol treatment increased the aggressiveness in the resident fish, but this effect was not observed in the non-resident fish, which fought in an unknown arena. The novelty of the arena may have elicited an "alerted state" in the non-resident fish; in this situation the fight was not the priority, and the cortisol effect in aggression could be impaired by a conflict between motivational systems (fear and aggression). In our knowledge, in fish, the increase of aggression promoted by an acute rise in cortisol levels was always tested and observed in a resident context, and the inhibition of cortisol effect in the agonist behavior is demonstrated for the first time. As the cortisol effect in aggression is observed in several taxa, the inhibition of aggressiveness increased by the novelty of the arena should be investigated in other groups to clarify the dynamics of this effect of cortisol in animal behavior. (C) 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.