Male social niche conformance? Effects of manipulated opportunity for extra-pair mating on behavior and hormones of male zebra finches

Navina Lilie, Sepand Riyahi, Arne Kalinowski, Stephen Salazar, Sylvia Kaiser, Tim Schmoll, Peter Korsten

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Success in sperm competition is an important determinant of male fitness in mating systems with female multiple mating. Thus, sperm competition risk represents a key dimension of the male social environment to which individual males are expected to adaptively adjust their reproductive phenotype. Such adaptive phenotypic adjustment we here refer to as male social niche conformance. In this pre-registered study, we investigated how male zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, adjust their behavior to sperm competition risk. We experimentally manipulated the opportunity for extra-pair mating to create two levels of sperm competition risk: 1) Single-pair, no sperm competition risk; 2) Double-pair, sperm competition risk. We compared male courtship, mate guarding, copulation rates, and aggression between the treatment groups. To identify hormonal correlates of male behavioral adjustment, we measured plasma testosterone and corticosterone levels before and after the social treatment started. Contrary to our pre-registered predictions, males from the Double-pair treatment group decreased courtship rates compared to those from the Single-pair group, and Double-pair males responded less aggressively towards intruders than Single-pair males. Testosterone levels decreased over the breeding cycle, but social treatment had no effect on either testosterone or corticosterone levels. Our results indicate that male zebra finches do not intensify courtship or competitive reproductive behaviors, or upregulate key hormones when another breeding pair is present. Although we found no evidence for the predicted adaptive behavioral responses to sperm competition risk, we show that male zebra finches plastically adjust their behavior to their social environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105243
Number of pages14
JournalHormones and Behavior
Early online date20 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Corticosterone
  • Courtship
  • Extra-pair paternity
  • Male-male competition
  • Mate guarding
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Pre-registration
  • Social monogamy
  • Testosterone


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