Peripheral Androgen Receptors Sustain the Acrobatics and Fine Motor Skill of Elaborate Male Courtship

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Androgenic hormones regulate many aspects of animal social behavior, including the elaborate display routines on which many species rely for advertisement and competition. One way that this might occur is through peripheral effects of androgens, particularly on skeletal muscles that control complex movements and postures of the body and its limbs. However, the specific contribution of peripheral androgen-muscle interactions to the performance of elaborate behavioral displays in the natural world has never been examined. We study this issue in one of the only natural physiological models of animal acrobatics: the golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus). In this tropical bird, males compete with each other and court females by producing firecracker-like wing- snaps and by rapidly dancing among saplings over the forest floor. To test how activation of peripheral androgen receptors (AR) influences this display, we treat reproductively active adult male birds with the peripherally selective antiandrogen bicalutamide (BICAL) and observe the effects of this manipulation on male display performance. We not only validate the peripheral specificity of BICAL in this species, but we also show that BICAL treatment reduces the frequency with which adult male birds perform their acrobatic display maneuvers and disrupts the overall structure and fine-scale patterning of these birds' main complex wing-snap sonation. In addition, this manipulation has no effect on the behavioral metrics associated with male motivation to display. Together, our findings help differentiate the various effects of peripheral and central AR on the performance of a complex sociosexual behavioral phenotype by indicating that peripheral AR can optimize the motor skills necessary for the production of an elaborate animal display.

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