Endocrine and neuroendocrine regulation of social status in cichlid fishes
Position in a dominance hierarchy profoundly impacts group members' survival, health, and reproductive success. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that regulate or are associated with an individuals' social position is important. Across taxa, various endocrine and neuroendocrine signaling systems are implicated in the control of social rank. Cichlid fishes, with their often-limited resources of food, shelter, and mates that leads to competition, have provided important insights on the proximate and ultimate mechanisms related to establishment and maintenance of dominance hierarchies. Here we review the existing information on the relationships between endocrine (e.g., circulating hormones, gonadal and other tissue measures) and neuroendocrine (e.g., central neuropeptides, biogenic amines, steroids) systems and dominant and subordinate social rank in male cichlids. Much of the current literature is focused on only a few representative cichlids, particularly the African Astatotilapia burtoni, and several other African and Neotropical species. Many hormonal regulators show distinct differences at multiple biological levels between dominant and subordinate males, but generalizations are complicated by variations in experimental paradigms, methodological approaches, and in the reproductive and parental care strategies of the study species. Future studies that capitalize on the diversity of hierarchical structures among cichlids should provide insights towards better understanding the endocrine and neuroendocrine mechanisms contributing to social rank. Further, examination of this topic in cichlids will help reveal the selective pressures driving the evolution of endocrine-related phenotypic traits that may facilitate an individual's ability to acquire and maintain a specific social rank to improve survival and reproductive success.