Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 173–182 | Cite as

A Multi-Component Pheromone in the Urine of Dominant Male Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) Reduces Aggression in Rivals

  • Tina Keller-Costa
  • João L. Saraiva
  • Peter C. HubbardEmail author
  • Eduardo N. Barata
  • Adelino V. M. Canário


Males often use scent to communicate their dominance, and to mediate aggressive and breeding behaviors. In teleost fish, however, the chemical composition of male pheromones is poorly understood. Male Mozambique tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, use urine that signals social status and primes females to spawn. The urinary sex pheromone directed at females consists of 5β-pregnane-3α,17α,20β-triol 3-glucuronate and its 20α-epimer. The concentration of these is positively correlated with male social rank. This study tested whether dominant male urine reduces aggression in receiver males, and whether the pregnanetriol 3-glucuronates also reduce male-male aggression. Males were allowed to fight their mirror image when exposed to either: i) water control or a chemical stimulus; ii) dominant male urine (DMU); iii) C18-solid phase (C18-SPE) DMU eluate; iv) C18-SPE DMU eluate plus filtrate; v) the two pregnanetriol 3-glucuronates (P3Gs); or vi) P3Gs plus DMU filtrate. Control males mounted an increasingly aggressive fight against their image over time. However, DMU significantly reduced this aggressive response. The two urinary P3Gs did not replicate the effect of whole DMU. Neither did the C18-SPE DMU eluate, containing the P3Gs, alone, nor the C18-SPE DMU filtrate to which the two P3Gs were added. Only exposure to reconstituted DMU (C18-SPE eluate plus filtrate) restored the aggression-reducing effect of whole DMU. Olfactory activity was present in the eluate and the polar filtrate in electro-olfactogram studies. We conclude that P3Gs alone have no reducing effect on aggression and that the urinary signal driving off male competition is likely to be a multi-component pheromone, with components present in both the polar and non-polar urine fractions.


Social behavior Aggression Chemical communication Urine Mirror Cichlid 



We are grateful to Drs C. Paetz, Y. Nakamura, and B. Schneider (Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany) for synthesizing the steroid-conjugates 20α-P-3-G and 20β-P-3-G. We also thank João Reis and Miguel Viegas (University of Algarve, Faro, Portugal) for help in rearing and maintaining tilapia.

This work received national funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal, through project UID/Multi/04326/2013 and fellowships SFRH/BD/46192/2008 to T.K.-C. and SFRH/BPD/67008/2009 to J.L.S.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tina Keller-Costa
    • 1
    • 2
  • João L. Saraiva
    • 1
  • Peter C. Hubbard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eduardo N. Barata
    • 2
  • Adelino V. M. Canário
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR)University of AlgarveFaroPortugal
  2. 2.Departamento de BiologiaUniversidade de EvoraEvoraPortugal

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