Hormones and behavior

Divergence in androgen sensitivity contributes to population differences in sexual dimorphism of electrocommunication behavior.

PMID 23142327


Weakly-electric fish (Apteronotidae) produce highly diverse electrocommunication signals. Electric organ discharges (EODs) vary across species, sexes, and in the magnitude and direction of their sexual dimorphism. Gonadal steroid hormones can modulate EODs, and differences in androgen sensitivity are hypothesized to underlie variation in the degree of sexual dimorphism across species. In this study, we asked whether variation in androgen sensitivity explained variation in sexual dimorphism of EODs within species, at the population level. We examined two populations of black ghost knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons), one from the Orinoco and the other from the Amazon River Basin. EOD frequency (EODf) and chirp rates were measured to characterize diversity in sexual dimorphism across populations. The magnitude of sexual dimorphism in EODf differed significantly across populations, and was more pronounced in the Orinoco population than in the Amazon population. Chirp rates were sexually monomorphic in both populations. 11-Ketotestosterone (11-kT) was administered over a two-week period to assess population differences in sensitivity to androgens. 11-kT masculinized EODf significantly more in the population with the greater degree of sexual dimorphism. 11-kT had no effect on the sexually monomorphic chirping rates. We conclude that population divergence in androgen sensitivity contributes to variation in sexual dimorphism of EODf in A. albifrons.