Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 10, pp 1633–1641 | Cite as

Intra-sexual competition modulates calling behavior and its association with secondary sexual traits

  • Rocío Tarjuelo
  • Pablo Vergara
  • Jesús Martínez-Padilla
Original Article


The expression of elaborate sexual displays is associated with individual quality ensuring reliable information about the bearers. However, the associated cost of expressing enhanced sexual traits is expected to change according to environmental circumstances. Specifically, the cost of maintaining or producing a signal is predicted to increase when environmental conditions are unfavorable, which may lead to a reduction in signal expression as shown in several species. Here, we compared the calling behavior of male red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus living in an area of experimentally increased intra-sexual competition to that of males living in a control area. Levels of intra-sexual competition were experimentally manipulated by testosterone implants in a subset of captured males. In addition, we compared the association between two sexual traits, calling behavior and comb size, of males living in these two areas. Although call frequency was not affected by different levels of intra-sexual competition, males from the control area performed shorter calls than individuals from the treatment area. Additionally, a positive association between comb size and call duration was found only for males in the area of lower aggressiveness. We suggest that environmental conditions influence the expression of multiple plastic sexual traits, depending on the costs and the information conveyed about different individual qualities.

Significance statement

Although sexual signals are considered reliable indicators of individual quality, environmental heterogeneity may modulate their expression and reliability. We experimentally manipulated levels of intra-sexual competition in a wild population of red grouse by increasing testosterone levels using implants in a subset of males. We observed that the social context shapes the expression of sexual traits. In less competitive conditions, males performed shorter calls and call length was positively related to the size of the supra-orbital comb, a relevant secondary sexual trait. Under higher intra-sexual competition, this relationship was decoupled and investment was directed at increasing call length.


Intra-sexual competition Call Male red grouse Context dependent Testosterone 



We are grateful to Dr. James for her help during fieldwork and to Dr. Gil, Dr. Llusía, and G. Palomar for their helped advice on acoustic analysis. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped to improve this manuscript. RT was supported by a PhD grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU, grant no. AP2009-0762). PV was supported by an Intra-European Marie Curie fellowship (European Union Seventh Framework Programme, FP7/2007-2013, grant agreement no. 252499). JM-P was supported by a JAE-doc fellowships and a research grant (CGL2015-70639-P, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad).

Compliance with ethical standards


RT was supported by a PhD grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU, grant no. AP2009-0762). PV was supported by an Intra-European Marie Curie fellowship (European Union Seventh Framework Programme, FP7/2007-2013, grant agreement no. 252499). JM-P was supported by a JAE-doc fellowships and a research grant (CGL2015-70639-P, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and rules set forth by their governments and institutions of the UK Home Office. The granting body of this study was the Intra-European Marie Curie Fellowship (European Union Seventh Framework Programe, FP7/2007-2013, grant agreement no. 252499) and the reference number for animal ethics approval associated with the work PPL60/3824.

Informed consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

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Online resource 1 (WAV 1808 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rocío Tarjuelo
    • 1
  • Pablo Vergara
    • 2
  • Jesús Martínez-Padilla
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Terrestrial Ecology Group (TEG), Department of EcologyUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary EcologyMuseo Nacional de Ciencias NaturalesMadridSpain
  3. 3.UMIB—Research Unit of Biodiversity (CSIC/UO/PA)University of OviedoMieresSpain
  4. 4.Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé (CEBC)UMR 7372 CNRS-Université de La RochelleVilliers-en-BoisFrance

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