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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Nov 22;267(1459):2339-43.

Testosterone, ticks and travels: a test of the immunocompetence-handicap hypothesis in free-ranging male sand lizards.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, Box 463, 413 90 Gothenburg, Sweden. mats.olsson@zool.gu.se


The immunocompetence-handicap hypothesis suggests that androgen-dependent male characters constitute honest signals of mate and/or rival quality because of the imposed costs through immune suppression associated with elevated testosterone levels. We demonstrate in a field experiment that male sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) exposed to elevated testosterone suffered from increased mass loss and tick load compared to control males. Although the first of these two results could be due to an elevated basal metabolic rate from increased plasma testosterone levels, the increased parasite load was statistically independent of the loss in body condition and is likely to be due to compromised immune function. Testosterone-treated males showed greater mobility than control males, and greater mobility resulted in higher mating success. Our experiment thus lends support to the immunocompetence-handicap hypothesis, suggesting that male testosterone levels have been moderated by balancing selection for reproductive success and sustained immune function.

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