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Male territorial aggression and androgen modulation in high latitude populations of the Sooty, Passerella iliaca sinuosa, and Red Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca zaboria


The Fox Sparrows, Passerella iliaca, include multiple groups and subspecies distributed at several latitudes from the Alaskan arctic to the southwestern United States. As such, this species represents a potential model for investigating latitudinal variation in androgen secretion and aggressive territoriality in male passerines. Breeding male Fox Sparrows from two subspecies within two groups, the Sooty Fox Sparrow, P. i. sinuosa, and the Red Fox Sparrow, P. i. zaboria, were assessed for aggressive territoriality and androgen responsiveness at multiple latitudes in arctic and subarctic Alaska. Subarctic Sooty Fox Sparrows had higher circulating androgen levels in the early (8.54 ng/ml) versus mid–late breeding season (2.44 ng/ml). Males in the mid–late breeding season did not up-regulate androgen secretion in response to social challenge, but were aggressive and spent more time within 5 m of a decoy during a simulated territorial intrusion (STI) than early breeding males. Male subarctic Red Fox Sparrows had slightly higher circulating androgen levels (2.29 ng/ml) than arctic males (1.10 ng/ml) in the mid–late breeding season. However, androgen levels were not correlated with blood collection time after a social challenge in either group, suggesting that neither arctic nor subarctic males up-regulate androgen secretion during the mid–late breeding period. Arctic males spent more time within 5 m of a decoy and sang less than subarctic males during an STI in the mid–late breeding season. These findings demonstrate that the Fox Sparrow is a tractable model for investigating the latitudinal regulation of aggressive territoriality and androgen responsiveness in passerines.

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