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Am Nat. 2009 Apr;173(4):475-87. doi: 10.1086/597222.

Testosterone-mediated effects on fitness-related phenotypic traits and fitness.

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  • 1Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research, Jyväskylä, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.


The physiological and behavioral mechanisms underlying life-history trade-offs are a continued source of debate. Testosterone (T) is one physiological factor proposed to mediate the trade-off between reproduction and survival. We use phenotypic engineering and multiple laboratory and field fitness-related phenotypic traits to test the effects of elevated T between two bank vole Myodes glareolus groups: dominant and subordinate males. Males with naturally high T levels showed higher social status (laboratory dominance) and mobility (distance between capture sites) than low-T males, and the effect of T on immune response was also T group specific, suggesting that behavioral strategies may exist in male bank voles due to the correlated responses of T. Exogenous T enhanced social status, mate searching (polygon of capture sites), mobility, and reproductive success (relative measure of pups sired). However, exogenous T also resulted in the reduction of immune function, but only in males from the high-T group. This result may be explained either by the immunosuppression costs of T or by differential sensitivity of different behavioral strategies to steroids. Circulating T levels were found to be heritable; therefore, female bank voles would derive indirect genetic benefits via good genes from mating with males signaling dominance.

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