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Am Nat. 2005 Aug;166(2):158-68. Epub 2005 May 11.

Separating behavioral and physiological mechanisms in testosterone-mediated trade-offs.

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Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Hill of Brathens, Banchory AB31 4BW, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Testosterone often mediates trade-offs between reproduction and other life-history traits, which are usually investigated using testosterone implants. However, this approach does not distinguish between the physiological and behavioral effects of testosterone. We studied a wild game bird, the red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus, and took a new approach to investigate mechanisms linking elevated testosterone to increased parasite intensity. We caught males in autumn, removed their parasites, implanted them with the antiandrogen flutamide in combination with an aromatase inhibitor (FA males) or with empty implants (control males), and challenged them with parasites. The FA treatment increased testosterone concentration and physiological stress, but without enhancing testosterone-dependent behaviors, because testosterone receptors were blocked. FA males ended up with more parasites than the control males the following autumn, an effect similar to that of a testosterone treatment reported elsewhere. However, and unlike the testosterone treatment, the FA treatment did not affect home range, pairing, or breeding success. The results supported a physiological mechanism (increased susceptibility) linking elevated testosterone and increased parasite intensity. The FA treatment provided a new way of investigating testosterone-mediated trade-offs whereby testosterone concentration was increased while the effects on behavior were blocked, resulting in physiological costs without phenotypic benefits.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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