Intra-sexual competition alters the relationship between testosterone and ornament expression in a wild territorial bird

J Martinez-Padilla, L Perez-Rodriguez, F Mougeot, S Ludwig, S M Redpath

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In a reliable signalling system, individual quality is expected to mediate the costs associated with ornamental displays, with relatively lower costs being paid by individuals of higher quality. These relative costs should depend not only on individual quality, but also on levels of intra-sexual competition. We explored the current and delayed effects that testosterone implants have on bird ornamentation in populations with contrasted population densities, as a proxy for intra-sexual competition. In a replicated experiment, we manipulated testosterone in 196 yearling male red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus in autumn in populations of high and low levels of intra-sexual competition. Males were assigned to one of three exogenous testosterone (T) treatments: empty implants (TO), small T implants (T1) or larger T implants (12). We monitored subsequent changes in testosterone levels, ornament size and carotenoid-based colouration, carotenoid levels and body condition from autumn to spring. Testosterone implants increased testosterone levels, comb redness and comb size, and decreased body condition but these effects depended on levels of intra-sexual competition. Specifically, T2-implanted birds increased testosterone levels and comb size more, and reduced body condition more, in populations where intra-sexual competition was low. In the following spring, testosterone levels of T2-treated birds kept increasing in populations where intra-sexual competition was high but not in populations where intra-sexual competition was low. Our results highlight that levels of intra-sexual competition alter the relationship between testosterone levels and ornament expression, influencing their condition-dependence; they also indicate that the outcome of standard hormone manipulation conducted in free-living animals vary depending on the population context. (C) 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-444
Number of pages10
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
Early online date31 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


  • sexual selection
  • red grouse
  • males
  • hormones
  • condition-dependence
  • lagopus-lagopus-scoticus
  • male red grouse
  • immunocompetence handicap hypothesis
  • trichostrongylus-tenuis
  • population-dynamics
  • parasite infection
  • kin structure
  • behavior
  • carotenoids
  • selection

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