Social stimulation, nuptial colouration, androgens and immunocompetence in a sexual dimorphic cichlid fish
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- Dijkstra, P.D., Hekman, R., Schulz, R.W. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2007) 61: 599. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0289-7
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The nature of the costs maintaining honesty of sexual signalling in inter- and intrasexual interactions remains a contentious issue. For carotenoid-based colour ornaments, it has been hypothesized that the honesty of the signal is enforced when carotenoid allocation to colour expression is traded off against carotenoid availability for immunocompetence. In addition, honesty is enforced if androgens required for colour expression are immunosuppressive. We tested whether there is a trade-off between colour expression and immunocompetence in a lek-breeding haplochromine cichlid fish, Pundamilia nyererei, from Lake Victoria with a carotenoid-based nuptial dress. First, we showed that expression of red nuptial colouration and social rank in a group were positively correlated. We then successfully manipulated the level of colour advertisement by socially stimulating individually housed males with a rival male: Stimulated males developed larger areas of red nuptial colouration and had higher levels of circulating 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) than non-stimulated males. We subsequently tested the humoral immune response to a novel antigen (sheep red blood cells). There was no overall significant effect of social stimulation on antibody production, but in the stimulated males, the degree of red colouration and the antibody response were negatively correlated. This significant interaction between colour and treatment thus shows that the negative correlation between colouration and antibody production is dependent on the (manipulated) social environment. This study provides correlational and experimental evidence for a trade-off between expression of a sexual trait and one component of immune function in fish. We found no evidence for a direct effect of 11-KT on antibody production, and we discuss alternative mechanisms that could mediate the trade-off.