Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 197, Issue 6, pp 711–715 | Cite as

Circulating androgens are influenced by parental nest defense in a wild teleost fish

  • Constance M. O’ConnorEmail author
  • Kathleen M. Gilmour
  • Glen Van Der Kraak
  • Steven J. Cooke
Short Communication


While social interactions influence vertebrate endocrine regulation, the dynamics of regulation in relation to specific behaviors have not been clearly elucidated. In the current study, we investigated whether androgens (testosterone) or glucocorticoids (cortisol) play a functional role in aggressive offspring defense behavior in wild smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), a teleost fish with sole paternal care. We measured circulating testosterone and cortisol concentrations in plasma samples taken from parental males following a simulated nest intrusion by a common nest predator, the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). To understand whether endocrine regulation changes across the parental care period, we looked both at males guarding fresh eggs and at males guarding hatched embryos. Plasma testosterone levels increased in males subjected to a simulated nest intrusion when compared to sham controls. Testosterone concentrations in males guarding embryos were lower than in males guarding fresh eggs, but circulating testosterone was positively correlated with the level of aggression towards the nest predator at both offspring development stages. However, there was no increase in cortisol levels following a simulated nest intrusion, and no relationship between cortisol and any measured parameter. These results suggest that androgens play an important role in promoting aggressive nest defense behavior in teleost fish.


Cortisol Androgens Testosterone Challenge hypothesis Parental care 



All fish were sampled under an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Scientific Collection Permit and handled in accordance with the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care as administered by Carleton University and the Queen’s University Biological Station. This research was supported by NSERC Discovery Grants to S.J.C., K.M.G., and G.V.D.K., and a Research Achievement Award from Carleton University to S.J.C. C.M.O. was supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and by Carleton University. The authors also wish to thank members and friends of “Cooke Country” for assistance with fieldwork, particularly Jake Davis, Cody Dey, Eric Fontaine, Marie-Ange Gravel, Kyle Hanson, Sean Landsman, Sarah McConnachie, Rana Sunder, Alex Wilson, Samantha Wilson, and Claire Yick. Finally, many thanks to Cody Dey and Jacquie Matsumoto for their invaluable assistance with androgen assays.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constance M. O’Connor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathleen M. Gilmour
    • 2
  • Glen Van Der Kraak
    • 3
  • Steven J. Cooke
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Ottawa-Carleton Institute of BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Department of Integrative Biology, College of Biological SciencesUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  4. 4.Institute of Environmental ScienceCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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