New paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B


Testosterone amplifies the negative valence of an agonistic gestural display by exploiting receiver perceptual bias.

Anderson N, Grabner M, Mangiamele L, Preininger D & Fuxjager M (2021) 
Proc Biol Sci B., Volume 288,Issue 1963. 
Link. Published online 17 November 2021


Many animals communicate by performing elaborate displays that are incredibly extravagant and wildly bizarre. So, how do these displays evolve? One idea is that innate sensory biases arbitrarily favour the emergence of certain display traits over others, leading to the design of an unusual display. Here, we study how physiological factors associated with signal production influence this process, a topic that has received almost no attention. We focus on a tropical frog, whose males compete for access to females by performing an elaborate waving display. Our results show that sex hormones like testosterone regulate specific display gestures that exploit a highly conserved perceptual system, evolved originally to detect ‘dangerous' stimuli in the environment. Accordingly, testosterone makes certain gestures likely to appear more perilous to rivals during combat. This suggests that hormone action can interact with effects of sensory bias to create an evolutionary optimum that guides how display exaggeration unfolds.