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Opposite Changes in Plasma Testosterone and Corticosterone Levels Following a Simulated Territorial Challenge in Male Great Tits

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The apparent ability of plasma testosterone (T) and corticosterone (B) levels to fluctuate rapidly in response to agonistic interactions, suggests that these hormones may play an important role in an animal's acute behavioural response during such interactions. In the present study, free-living male great tits, Parus major, were subjected to a simulated territorial intrusion (STI) during the egg laying, incubation and nestling stage of first broods. Plasma T and B levels of challenged males were compared to those of control males matched for breeding stage, day in breeding stage, and time of day. Plasma B levels were significantly higher in challenged males compared to control males during the egg laying and incubation stage but not during the nestling stage. On the other hand, challenged males had significantly lower plasma T levels than control males throughout the breeding cycle. While having low plasma T and elevated plasma B levels, challenged males showed a vigorous and unrelenting territorial response to the STI. Plasma T and B levels of challenged males did not correlate with the intensity of the behavioural response to the STI. These findings do not agree with the predictions of the 'challenge hypothesis' that males exposed to a territorial challenge while having breeding baseline T levels will respond with an increase in T or that T correlates with the intensity of aggression during a challenge. Together, our findings suggest a role for B rather than T in the regulation of territorial defence in male great tits.

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