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Horm Behav. 2005 May;47(5):576-84.

Testosterone and autumn territorial behavior in male red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus.

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  • 1Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory, Aberdeenshire AB31 4BW, UK.


In many bird species, males exhibit territorial aggression outside the breeding season, when testosterone concentrations are low and may not regulate territorial behaviors. The hormonal regulation of aggression at this time of year has only been studied in passerine birds. Here, we investigated the role of testosterone in the regulation of aggression in a non-passerine bird, the red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus. Male red grouse are aggressive in early spring when breeding starts, in autumn when they establish territories, and sporadically through much of the winter. We first describe seasonal variations in plasma testosterone concentrations and in the size of males' sexual ornaments, their red combs, which relates to aggressiveness. Testosterone concentrations and comb size were correlated. Both increased in autumn to a peak in October, and then increased again in spring, to a greater peak in early April. Secondly, we experimentally investigated the effects of testosterone, and of an anti-androgen (flutamide) used in combination with an aromatase inhibitor (ATD), on autumn territorial behavior. Males were treated with either empty implants, as controls (C-males), testosterone implants (T-males), or with flutamide and ATD implants (FA-males). One month after implanting, both T- and FA-males had higher concentrations of testosterone than C-males. Comb size, aggressive call rate, and response to playbacks of territorial call all significantly increased in T-males. However, the increase in testosterone in FA-males did not increase comb size or aggressive behavior. In the following spring, after the content of implants was used, FA-males had significantly lower testosterone than C-males, and had a reduced seasonal increase in comb size. The results suggest that testosterone plays a significant role in regulating red grouse aggressive behavior in autumn. However, the observation that flutamide and ATD treatment did not reduce territorial behavior, suggests that estradiol may also be involved in the regulation of non-breeding aggression.

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