Manipulations of the AVT system shift social status and related courtship and aggressive behavior in the bluehead wrasse.
Arginine vasotocin (AVT) and its mammalian homologoue arginine vasopressin (AVP) influence male sexual and aggressive behaviors in many species. We tested the effects of AVT and an AVP-V(1a) receptor antagonist on the display of alternative male tactics in a tropical coral reef fish, the bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum. We gave AVT injections to territorial and nonterritorial males of the large and colorful phenotype (terminal phase) and an AVP-V(1a) receptor antagonist, Manning compound, to territorial males in the field. AVT increased courtship independent of status, while its effects on territoriality and aggression were dependent upon male status. In territorial males, AVT increased courtship and tended to decrease the number of chases toward initial phase individuals. In nonterritorial males, AVT increased courtship, chases toward initial phase individuals, and territorial behavior while decreasing feeding. These are all behaviors rarely seen in nonterritorial males, so AVT made these males act like territorial TP males. The AVP-V(1a) receptor antagonist had opposite effects. It decreased courtship and territorial defense, making these males act more like nonterritorial males. Manipulations of the AVT system shifted males within a single phenotype from the nonterritorial social status to the territorial social status and vice versa. Since the entire suite of behaviors related to territoriality was affected by AVT system manipulations, our results suggest that the AVT system may play a key role in motivation of behaviors related to mating.