Adolescent social environment shapes sexual and aggressive behaviour of adult male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)
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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.
KeywordsAdolescence Social experience Phenotypic plasticity Aggressiveness Courtship Attractiveness Zebra finch
We thank Agnieszka Kazek, Anjuli Barber and Edda Geißler for their help with setting up the experiments and accomplishing pilot studies; Suzanne Albrecht for polishing grammar and style of the manuscript; and Ursula Strübig, Brigitta Otte, Ursula Rennemann, Kristina Ruhe, Jana Derbogen Stefanie Taube, Uwe Dettmer, Werner Jamin, Michael Meyerhoff and Sebastian Dietrich for animal caretaking. This project was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation to Hans-Joachim Bischof and Nikolaus von Engelhardt (DFG; For 1232: BI 245/20-1).
All experimental procedures applied in this study are not regulated by the German animal protection law and do not need a special approval. Animal facilities were approved (dated 18 April 2002) for keeping and breeding zebra finches for research purposes by the local government authority responsible for health, veterinary and food monitoring (Gesundheits-, Veterinär- und Lebensmittelüberwachungsamt). Details of breeding and housing conditions are described in the respective method sections.
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