Endocrine and behavioral changes in male African elephants: linking hormone changes to sexual state and reproductive tactics.
Rasmussen HB., Ganswindt A., Douglas-Hamilton I., Vollrath F.
Hormones play a crucial role in mediating genetic and environmental effects into morphological and behavioral phenotypes. In systems with alternative reproductive tactics (ART) shifts between tactics are hypothesized to be under proximate hormonal control. Most studies of the underlying endocrine changes behind ART have focused on fish and amphibians rather than mammals and few have investigated the potential interaction between different endocrine axes in regulating shifts between conditional dependent tactics. Using a combination of endocrine and behavioral data from male African elephants we expand on our previously published analysis and show that the initial increase in androgens predates the behavioral shifts associated with reproductively active periods, supporting the role of androgens in activating sexually active periods in males. A strong interactive effect between androgens and glucocorticoids was found to determine the presence or absence of temporal gland secretion and urine dribbling, signals associated with the competitive reproductive tactic of musth, with elevated glucocorticoids levels suppressing the occurrence of musth signals. In addition external environmental conditions affected hormone levels. The presence of receptive females resulted in elevated androgens in dominant musth males but increased glucocorticoids in subordinate non-musth males. The presented data on hormones, behavior and reproductive tactics strongly support an underlying endocrine mechanism for mediating the translation of intrinsic as well as extrinsic local conditions into the conditional dependent reproductive tactics in male elephants via interactions between the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and -adrenal axes.