Testosterone levels in dominant sociable males are lower than in solitary roamers: physiological differences between three male reproductive tactics in a sociably flexible mammal

Am Nat. 2009 Mar;173(3):376-88. doi: 10.1086/596535.


The relative plasticity hypothesis predicts that alternative tactics are associated with changes in steroid hormone levels. In species with alternative male reproductive tactics, the highest androgen levels have usually been reported in dominant males. However, in sociable species, dominant males show amicable behaviors to gain access to females, which might conflict with high testosterone levels. We compared testosterone, corticosterone, and resting metabolic rate in male striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) following a conditional strategy with three different reproductive tactics: (i) philopatric group-living males, (ii) solitary-living roamers, (iii) dominant but sociable group-living territorial breeders. Philopatrics had the lowest testosterone but highest corticosterone levels, suggesting that they make the best of a bad job. Dominant territorial breeders had lower testosterone levels than roamers, which have a lower competitive status. Roamers had the highest testosterone levels, which might promote risky behavior, such as invading territories defended by territorial males. Roamers also had lower resting metabolic rates than either type of group-living males. Our results suggest that dominant males' testosterone levels reflect a trade-off between low testosterone amicable behavior and high testosterone dominance behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Size
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Homing Behavior
  • Male
  • Murinae / blood
  • Murinae / metabolism
  • Murinae / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Social Behavior
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Testosterone
  • Corticosterone