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Progesterone Modulates Aggression in Sex-Role Reversed Female African Black Coucals

Wolfgang Goymann, Andrea Wittenzellner, Ingrid Schwabl and Musa Makomba
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 275, No. 1638 (May 7, 2008), pp. 1053-1060
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25249616
Page Count: 8
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Progesterone Modulates Aggression in Sex-Role Reversed Female African Black Coucals
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Abstract

Testosterone is assumed to be the key hormone related to resource-defence aggression. While this role has been confirmed mostly in the context of reproduction in male vertebrates, the effect of testosterone on the expression of resource-defence aggression in female vertebrates is not so well established. Furthermore, laboratory work suggests that progesterone inhibits aggressive behaviour in females. In this study, we investigated the hormonal changes underlying territorial aggression in free-living female African black coucals, Centropus grillii (Aves; Cuculidae). Females of this sex-role reversed polyandrous bird species should be particularly prone to be affected by testosterone because they aggressively defend territories similar to males of other species. We show, however, that territorial aggression in female black coucals is modulated by progesterone. After aggressive territorial challenges female black coucals expressed lower levels of progesterone than unchallenged territorial females and females without territories, suggesting that progesterone may suppress territorial aggression and is downregulated during aggressive encounters. Indeed, females treated with physiological concentrations of progesterone were less aggressive than females with placebo implants. This is one of the first demonstrations of a corresponding hormone-behaviour interaction under challenged and experimental conditions in free-living females. We anticipate that our observation in a sex-role reversed species may provide a more general mechanism, by which progesterone-in interaction with testosterone-may regulate resource-defence aggression in female vertebrates.

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