Black redstart02

Female Black redstart, Seewiesen, Germany

Associated and disassociated patterns in homones, song, behavior and brain receptor expression between life-cycle stages in male black redstarts, Phoenicurus ochruros.

Beate Apfelbeck • Kim G. Mortega • Sarah Kiefer • Silke Kipper • Michiel Vellema • Camila P. Villavicencio • Manfred Gahr • Wolfgang Goymann. 2013. Gen Comp Endocr 184: 93-102 download





Testosterone has been suggested to be involved in the regulation of male territorial behavior. For example, seasonal peaks in testosterone typically coincide with periods of intense competition between males for territories and mating partners. However, some species also express territorial behavior outside a breeding context when testosterone levels are low and, thus, the degree to which testosterone facilitates territorial behavior in these species is not well understood. We studied territorial behavior and its neuro-endocrine correlates in male black redstarts. Black redstarts defend territories in spring during the breeding period, but also in the fall outside a reproductive context when testosterone levels are low. In the present study we assessed if song output and structure remain stable across life-cycle stages. Furthermore, we assessed if brain anatomy may give insight into the role of testosterone in the regulation of territorial behavior in black redstarts.

We found that males sang spontaneously at a high rate during the nonbreeding period when testosterone levels were low; however the trill-like components of spontaneously produced song contained less repetitive elements during nonbreeding than during breeding. This higher number of repetitive elements in trills did not, however, correlate with a larger song control nucleus HVC during breeding. However, males expressed more aromatase mRNA in the preoptic area – a brain nucleus important for sexual and aggressive behavior – during breeding than during nonbreeding.

In combination with our previous studies on black redstarts our results suggest that territorial behavior in this species only partly depends on sex steroids: spontaneous song output, seasonal variation in trills and non-vocal territorial behavior in response to a simulated territorial intruder seem to be independent of sex steroids. However, context-dependent song during breeding may be facilitated by testosterone – potentially by conversion of testosterone to estradiol in the preoptic area.

photo credit: Beate Apfelbeck