Social regulation of reproduction in male cichlid fishes

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© 2014 Elsevier Inc. Social interactions and relative positions within a dominance hierarchy have helped shape the evolution of reproduction in many animals. Since reproduction is crucial in all animals, and rank typically regulates access to reproductive opportunities, understanding the mechanisms that regulate socially-induced reproductive processes is extremely important. How does position in a dominance hierarchy impact an individual's reproductive behavior, morphology, and physiology? Teleost fishes, and cichlids in particular, are ideally-suited models for studying how social status influences reproduction on multiple levels of biological organization. Here I review the current knowledge on the reproductive behavioral and physiological consequences of relative position in a dominance hierarchy, with a particular focus on male cichlids. Dominant and subordinate social status is typically associated with distinct differences in activity along the entire hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Further, when transitions in social status occur between subordinate and dominant individuals, there are plastic changes from whole-organism behavior to molecular-level gene expression modifications that occur quickly. These rapid changes in behavior and physiology have allowed cichlids the flexibility to adapt to and thrive in their often dynamic physical and social environments. Studies in cichlid fishes have, and will continue, to advance our understanding of how the social environment can modulate molecular, cellular, and behavioral outcomes relevant to reproductive success. Future studies that take advantage of the extreme diversity in mating systems, reproductive tactics, and parental care strategies within the cichlid group will help generate hypotheses and careful experimental tests on the mechanisms governing the social control of reproduction in many vertebrates.

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General and Comparative Endocrinology

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