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Context-dependent effects of testosterone treatment to males on pair maintenance behaviour in zebra finches

Prior, Nora H., Yap, Kang Nian, Liu, Tian Qi D., Vignal, Clementine, Soma, Kiran K.
Animal behaviour 2016 v.114 pp. 155-164
Taeniopygia guttata, acoustics, animal behavior, cages, males, monogamy, testosterone
Monogamous pair bonds can be transient or long-lasting, which varies across species. The neuroendocrine mechanisms regulating pair maintenance behaviours are largely unknown, yet fundamental to our understanding of monogamy. Furthermore, the expression and regulation of pair maintenance behaviour is likely to be greatly influenced by social and environmental contexts. Our previous research suggested that androgens might regulate long-term pair maintenance behaviour in the monogamous zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata. Here, we tested the hypothesis that testosterone treatment to males affects long-term pair maintenance behaviour in zebra finches. Established pairs were randomly assigned to one of two groups: control (N=8) or testosterone (N=7). Males were given either an empty or a testosterone-filled Silastic implant. Physical and acoustic affiliative behaviours and plasma testosterone levels were examined at three time points: pre-implantation, 30 days post-implant and 60 days post-implant. Importantly, we examined affiliative behaviours under two contexts: in the home cage (baseline) and following a brief chase (post stressor). Male testosterone treatment had no effects on behaviour during the baseline period, but significantly affected behaviours during the post stressor period. Specifically, testosterone-treated males spent less time in close proximity to their partner and sang more. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a context-dependent effect in the neuroendocrine regulation of pair maintenance behaviour, as well as the first report of an inhibitory effect of testosterone on zebra finch pairing behaviours. These results raise interesting questions about the function of affiliative behaviours in established pair bonds.