Social interactions with the outcome of a position in a dominance hierarchy can have profound effects on reproductive behavior and physiology, requiring animals to integrate environmental information with their internal physiological state; but how is salient information from the animal's dynamic social environment transformed into adaptive behavioral, physiological, and molecular-level changes? The African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia burtoni, is ideally suited to understand socially controlled reproductive plasticity because activity of the male reproductive (brainpituitary gonad) axis is tightly linked to social status. Males form hierarchies in which a small percentage of brightly colored dominant individuals have an active reproductive axis, defend territories, and spawn with females, while the remaining males are subordinate, drably colored, do not hold a territory, and have a suppressed reproductive system with minimal opportunities for spawning. These social phenotypes are plastic and quickly reversible, meaning that individual males may switch between dominant and subordinate status multiple times within a lifetime. Here, we review the rapid and remarkable plasticity that occurs along the entire reproductive axis when males rise in social rank, a transition that has important implications for the operational sex ratio of the population. When males rise in rank, transformations occur in the brain, pituitary, circulation, and testes over short time-scales (minutes to days). Changes are evident in overt behavior, as well as modifications at the physiological, cellular, and molecular levels that regulate reproductive capacity. Widespread changes triggered by a switch in rank highlight the significance of external social information in shaping internal physiology and reproductive competence. © The Author 2013. All rights reserved.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Maruska, K., & Fernald, R. (2013). Social regulation of male reproductive plasticity in an African cichlid fish. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 53 (6), 938-950. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/ict017