Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 175-184

First online:

Adolescent social environment shapes sexual and aggressive behaviour of adult male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

  • Tim RuplohAffiliated withLehrstuhl Verhaltensforschung, Universität Bielefeld Email author 
  • , Hans-Joachim BischofAffiliated withLehrstuhl Verhaltensforschung, Universität Bielefeld
  • , Nikolaus von EngelhardtAffiliated withLehrstuhl Verhaltensforschung, Universität Bielefeld

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Adolescence is the pivotal transitional phase during which animals become sexually and socially mature and acquire the skills to cope with a variety of environmental challenges on their own. We investigated in a bird species, the zebra finch, how the social environment experienced during this period influences their behaviour in a sexual context. Zebra finches were kept in pairs (male–female or male–male) or larger mixed-sex groups (three males and three females) during adolescence and the long-term consequences were studied on courtship behaviour, aggressiveness and attractiveness in 42 males. To investigate the stability of the observed effects over time, all behavioural tests were repeated approximately 4 months after the initial recordings. Males that grew up with a single female showed the most intense courtship and highest aggressiveness and were most attractive to females, while group-reared males had the lowest courtship and aggressiveness and were the least attractive. The observed differences in courtship and aggressiveness were stable, while the differences in attractiveness disappeared over time. These findings are very similar to earlier studies on guinea pigs, indicating that the observed effects represent a general phenomenon, not restricted to mammals with a similar function and presumably also similar underlying mechanisms.


Adolescence Social experience Phenotypic plasticity Aggressiveness Courtship Attractiveness Zebra finch