Stress responsiveness predicts individual variation in mate selectivity (full download)
Maren N. Vitousek and L. Michael Romero
General and Comparative Endocrinology (2013)
Steroid hormones, including glucocorticoids, mediate a variety of behavioral and physiological processes. Circulating hormone concentrations vary substantially within populations, and although hormone titers predict reproductive success in several species, little is known about how individual variation in circulating hormone concentrations is linked with most reproductive behaviors in free-living organisms. Mate choice is an important and often costly component of reproduction that also varies substantially within populations. We examined whether energetically costly mate selection behavior in female Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) was associated with individual variation in the concentrations of hormones previously shown to differ between reproductive and non-reproductive females during the breeding season (corticosterone and testosterone). Stress-induced corticosterone levels – which are suppressed in female marine iguanas during reproduction – were individually repeatable throughout the seven-week breeding period. Mate selectivity was strongly predicted by individual variation in stress-induced corticosterone: reproductive females that secreted less corticosterone in response to a standardized stressor assessed more displaying males. Neither baseline corticosterone nor testosterone predicted variation in mate selectivity. Scaled body mass was not significantly associated with mate selectivity, but females that began the breeding period in lower body condition showed a trend towards being less selective about potential mates. These results provide the first evidence that individual variation in the corticosterone stress response is associated with how selective females are in their choice of a mate, an important contributor to fitness in many species. Future research is needed to determine the functional basis of this association, and whether transient acute increases in circulating corticosterone directly mediate mate choice behaviors.