To fight or mate? Hormonal control of sex recognition, male sexual behavior and aggression in the gecko lizard

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Abstract

Squamate reptiles are a highly diversified vertebrate group with extensive variability in social behavior and sexual dimorphism. However, hormonal control of these traits has not previously been investigated in sufficient depth in many squamate lineages. Here, we studied the hormonal control of male sexual behavior, aggressiveness, copulatory organ (hemipenis) size and sex recognition in the gecko Paroedura picta, comparing ovariectomized females, ovariectomized females treated with exogenous dihydrotestosterone (DHT), ovariectomized females treated with exogenous testosterone (T), control females and males. The administration of both T and DHT led to the expression of male-typical sexual behavior in females. However, in contrast to T, increased circulating levels of DHT alone were not enough to initiate the full expression of male-typical offensive aggressive behavior and development of hemipenes in females. Ovariectomized females were as sexually attractive as control females, which does not support the need for the demasculinization of the cues used for sex recognition by ovarian hormones as suggested in other sauropsids. On the other hand, our results point to the masculinization of the sex recognition cues by male gonadal androgens. Previously, we also demonstrated that sexually dimorphic growth is controlled by ovarian hormones in P. picta. Overall, it appears that individual behavioral and morphological sexually-dimorphic traits are controlled by multiple endogenous pathways in this species. Variability in the endogenous control of particular traits could have permitted their disentangling during evolution and the occurrence of (semi)independent changes across squamate phylogeny.

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