Record Details

Rubenstein, Dustin R;Wikelski, Martin
Steroid hormones and aggression in female Galápagos marine iguanas
Hormones and Behavior
Journal Article
Amblyrhynchus cristatus
We studied steroid hormone patterns and aggression during breeding in female Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Females display vigorously towards courting males after copulating (female-male aggression), as well as fight for and defend nest sites against other females (female-female aggression). To understand the neuroendocrine basis of this aggressive behavior, we examined changes in testosterone (T), estradiol (E2), corticosterone (CORT), and progesterone (P4) during the mating and nesting periods, and then measured levels in nesting females captured during aggressive interactions. Testosterone reached maximal levels during the mating stage when female-male aggression was most common, and increased slightly, but significantly, during the nesting stage when female-female aggression was most common. However, fighting females had significantly lower T, but higher E2 and P4, than non-fighting females. It remains unclear whether these changes in hormone levels during aggressive interactions are a cause or a consequence of a change in behavior. Our results support the "challenge hypothesis", but suggest that E2 and/or P4 may increase in response to aggressive challenges in females just as T does in males. Females may be rapidly aromatizing T to elevate circulating levels of E2 during aggressive interactions. This hypothesis could explain why non-fighting females had slightly elevated baseline T, but extremely low E2, during stages when aggressive interactions were most common. Although P4 increased rapidly during aggressive encounters, it is unclear whether it acts directly to affect behavior, or indirectly via conversion to E2. The rapid production and conversion of E2 and P4 may be an important mechanism underlying female aggression in vertebrates.