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Environmental Stimuli Influence Oestrogen-Dependent Courtship Transitions and Brain Aromatase Activity in Male Ring Doves

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In paired ring doves, Streptopelia risoria, male and female reproductive behaviour undergoes a series of synchronised transitions. The duration of each phase depends on the reproductive development of the pair. This study examines the effect of the environment in which behaviour is shown on both oestrogen-dependent courtship transitions and formation of oestrogen in the brain. The structuring of the cage environment had an immediate effect on transitions in male courtship behaviour. Males which were tested with females in a cage environment with a perch and a nest bowl (complex cage) displayed significantly less aggressive courtship and more nest-orientated behaviour than males tested with females in a cage environment without perch or nest bowl (simple cage). The response of males, which showed aggressive and nest-orientated courtship behaviour, to reproductively advanced females (abdominal length 1.4-1.6 cm) about to lay eggs or females in earlier stages of reproductive development (abdominal length 0.8-1.1 cm) did not differ initially. On the eighth day of 15-min daily tests, there was, however, an increase in aggressive courtship to females with smaller abdomens. This result suggests that male aggressiveness is more likely when the male and female reproductive cycles are not synchronised. We also tested whether environmental factors and the male's hormonal condition, which affect male courtship interactions, influence the formation of behaviourally effective oestrogen by aromatisation of testosterone in the brain. The aromatase activity was measured in the preoptic and anterior hypothalamic areas in relation to the time spent in interaction with females each day. Both intact and castrated males which interacted intermittently (15 min each day for 9 days) had higher preoptic aromatase activity than males which interacted continuously with females. The males which had high brain aromatase activity and had interacted intermittently with females were considered to represent the initial stages of the cycle. We conclude that cage environment and female reproductive condition influence the course of courtship interactions. Oestrogen formation in the male brain is affected by the type of interaction.

Affiliations: 1: MRC Neuroendocrine Development and Behaviour Group, The Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridge, CB2 4AT, UK


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