Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 11, pp 1485–1492 | Cite as

Sex-specific plasticity in brain morphology depends on social environment of the guppy, Poecilia reticulata

  • Alexander Kotrschal
  • Björn Rogell
  • Alexei A. Maklakov
  • Niclas Kolm
Original Paper


The vertebrate brain is a remarkably plastic organ, which responds quickly to environmental changes. However, to date, studies investigating plasticity in brain morphology have focused mostly on the physical properties of the surrounding environment, and little is known about brain plasticity in response to the social environment. Moreover, sex differences in brain plasticity remain virtually unexplored. Here, we tested how the social environment influenced brain morphology in adult males and females using experimental manipulation of the sex composition of social pairs (same sex vs. mixed sex) in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). We detected substantial sex-specific plasticity in both the overall brain size (controlling for body size) and separate brain structures. The brain size was larger in males that interacted with females, and female optic tectum was larger in female-only groups. Overall, females had larger olfactory bulbs and cerebellum in comparison to males. While net sexual dimorphism in the brain structure can be explained in light of the known differences in boldness and foraging behaviour between the sexes, our results also support that cognitive demands associated with courtship behaviour can lead to plastic changes in the brain size. Our findings demonstrate that not only social environment can generate rapid, plastic responses in the vertebrate brain but also that such responses can depend strongly on sex.


Neural development Plasticity Social interactions Sexual selection Sexual dimorphism Guppy Poecilia reticulata 



This study was funded by grants from the Swedish Research Council (for NK and AAM), Carl Trygger Foundation (for NK) and ERC (for AAM).

Ethical standards

All performed experiments comply with the Swedish law and were approved by the Uppsala ethics committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander Kotrschal
    • 1
  • Björn Rogell
    • 1
  • Alexei A. Maklakov
    • 1
  • Niclas Kolm
    • 1
  1. 1.Animal Ecology, Department of Ecology and GeneticsUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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