Multiple mechanisms of phenotype development in the bluehead wrasse.
Despite having detailed information on mechanisms mediating sex-typical behavior in many species, we have little understanding of whether the same mechanisms regulate these behaviors when they are performed in the same species under different social contexts. In the five field experiments of this study of bluehead wrasses (Thalassoma bifasciatum), a sex-changing fish, we examined the roles of arginine vasotocin (AVT) and the potent teleost androgen 11-ketotestosterone (11KT) in mediating sexual and aggressive behaviors typical of dominant males. We demonstrated that AVT appears necessary for the assumption of dominant territorial status in males and females, but is sufficient only in the socially dominant terminal phase (TP) male phenotype. Specifically, an AVP V(1) receptor antagonist prevented both TP males and females from gaining dominance over recently vacated territories. However, unlike TP males in a previous study, neither females nor initial phase males responded to AVT treatment with increases in display of TP male typical behaviors when under social conditions that inhibit sex change. Treating females with 11KT did not alter responsiveness to AVT, but did induce male coloration and courtship behavior that was not observed in oil-treated females. Combined with the results of a previous study, these results indicate that the ability of AVT to induce male-typical behavior differs among sexual phenotypes and that this differential responsiveness appears to be dependent on social context and not directly on exposure to 11KT. Furthermore, since 11KT can induce courtship behavior in females that is not affected by AVT, there may be different hormonal mechanisms mediating courtship behavior under different social contexts.