Activation of aggressive behavior by progesterone and testosterone in male tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus

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General and Comparative Endocrinology




Testosterone is usually thought to be the major sex steroid regulating adult male territorial aggression in vertebrates. However, recent evidence has suggested a role for progesterone, as well as testosterone, in the organization of the two male reproductive phenotypes of tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus), which differ in adult levels of territorial behavior. In the present experiment we tested whether progesterone and testosterone could also play an activational role in the expression of adult aggressive behavior. We subjected post-reproductive male tree lizards to the following treatments: sham surgery, castration, castration with progesterone supplementation, and castration with testosterone supplementation. We measured several different dimensions of aggressive behavior. Overall in these post-reproductive animals, the level of aggression from lowest to highest was: castrates, shams, progesterone-treated, and testosterone-treated. Although testosterone appears to be the more potent regulator of aggressive behavior, progesterone enhanced several measures of aggression suggesting that it could play a role in natural regulation of aggressive behavior. This initial study used very high levels of progesterone (similar to or above those experienced by hatchlings) to maximize the probability of detecting an effect. Further studies are needed to determine if natural adult progesterone levels are sufficiently high to influence aggressive behavior