Alternative reproductive tactics occur when individuals of the same species follow alternative ways to maximize reproductive success. Often younger and smaller males follow tactics that result in lower fitness than that of dominant larger males. The relative plasticity hypothesis predicts that hormone levels change as males change tactics, but direct tests of this hypothesis are missing. It has been demonstrated in a number of studies that males following different tactics also differ in hormone levels (unpaired data), but not that individual males change their hormone levels as they change tactic (paired data). We compared hormone levels in the same individuals before and after they changed their tactic, using field samples collected over a period of 6 years. We studied male striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) following three alternative reproductive tactics: 1. alloparental philopatric males; 2. solitary roaming males, and 3. group-living dominant breeders. Testosterone levels increased and corticosterone levels decreased when philopatric males became roamers or breeders. The increase in testosterone levels tended to be higher in philopatric males that became roamers than in philopatric males that became breeders. Testosterone levels decreased when roamers became breeders. Prolactin levels increased when males of any other tactic became breeders. Thus, males significantly changed their hormone profiles as they changed tactics. These results are in agreement with the hypothesis that changes in hormone levels are associated with the switch from one alternative reproductive tactic to another.
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