Visual Information Alone Changes Behavior and Physiology during Social Interactions in a Cichlid Fish Astatotilapia burtoniReport as inadecuate

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Social behavior can influence physiological systems dramatically yet the sensory cues responsible are not well understood. Behavior of male African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia burtoni, in their natural habitat suggests that visual cues from conspecifics contribute significantly to regulation of social behavior. Using a novel paradigm, we asked whether visual cues alone from a larger conspecific male could influence behavior, reproductive physiology and the physiological stress response of a smaller male. Here we show that just seeing a larger, threatening male through a clear barrier can suppress dominant behavior of a smaller male for up to 7 days. Smaller dominant males being -attacked- visually by larger dominant males through a clear barrier also showed physiological changes for up to 3 days, including up-regulation of reproductive- and stress-related gene expression levels and lowered plasma 11-ketotestesterone concentrations as compared to control animals. The smaller males modified their appearance to match that of non-dominant males when exposed to a larger male but they maintained a physiological phenotype similar to that of a dominant male. After 7 days, reproductive- and stress- related gene expression, circulating hormone levels, and gonad size in the smaller males showed no difference from the control group suggesting that the smaller male habituated to the visual intruder. However, the smaller male continued to display subordinate behaviors and assumed the appearance of a subordinate male for a full week despite his dominant male physiology. These data suggest that seeing a larger male alone can regulate the behavior of a smaller male but that ongoing reproductive inhibition depends on additional sensory cues. Perhaps, while experiencing visual social stressors, the smaller male uses an opportunistic strategy, acting like a subordinate male while maintaining the physiology of a dominant male.

Author: Chun-Chun Chen , Russell D. Fernald



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