Perinatal androgens and adult behavior vary with nestling social system in siblicidal boobies

Muller, M. S., Brennecke, J. F., Porter, E. T., Ottinger, M. A., Anderson, D. J. (June 2008) Perinatal androgens and adult behavior vary with nestling social system in siblicidal boobies. PLoS ONE, 3 (6). e2460.

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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002460


BACKGROUND: Exposure to androgens early in development, while activating adaptive aggressive behavior, may also exert long-lasting effects on non-target components of phenotype. Here we compare these organizational effects of perinatal androgens in closely related Nazca (Sula granti) and blue-footed (S. nebouxii) boobies that differ in neonatal social system. The older of two Nazca booby hatchlings unconditionally attacks and ejects the younger from the nest within days of hatching, while blue-footed booby neonates lack lethal aggression. Both Nazca booby chicks facultatively upregulate testosterone (T) during fights, motivating the prediction that baseline androgen levels differ between obligately siblicidal and other species. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We show that obligately siblicidal Nazca boobies hatch with higher circulating androgen levels than do facultatively siblicidal blue-footed boobies, providing comparative evidence of the role of androgens in sociality. Although androgens confer a short-term benefit of increased aggression to Nazca booby neonates, exposure to elevated androgen levels during this sensitive period in development can also induce long-term organizational effects on behavior or morphology. Adult Nazca boobies show evidence of organizational effects of early androgen exposure in aberrant adult behavior: they visit unattended non-familial chicks in the colony and direct mixtures of aggression, affiliative, and sexual behavior toward them. In a longitudinal analysis, we found that the most active Non-parental Adult Visitors (NAVs) were those with a history of siblicidal behavior as a neonate, suggesting that the tendency to show social interest in chicks is programmed, in part, by the high perinatal androgens associated with obligate siblicide. Data from closely related blue-footed boobies provide comparative support for this interpretation. Lacking obligate siblicide, they hatch with a corresponding low androgen level, and blue-footed booby adults show a much lower frequency of NAV behavior and a lower probability of behaving aggressively during NAV interactions. This species difference in adult social behavior appears to have roots in both pleiotropic and experiential effects of nestling social system. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results indicate that Nazca boobies experience life-long consequences of androgenic preparation for an early battle to the death.

Item Type: Paper
Subjects: organism description > animal behavior
organism description > animal > developmental stage
organism description > animal > developmental stage > fetal
CSHL Authors:
Communities: CSHL labs > Hannon lab
Depositing User: Matt Covey
Date: 18 June 2008
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2013 21:16
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2013 21:16
PMCID: PMC2413419
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