Postprint version. Published in Hormones and Behavior, Volume 46, Issue 5, December 1, 2004, pages 628-637.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Sean C. Lema was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Pupfishes in the Death Valley region have rapidly differentiated in social behaviors since their isolation in a series of desert streams, springs, and marshes less than 20,000 years ago. These habitats can show dramatic fluctuations in ecological conditions, and pupfish must cope with the changes by plastic physiological and behavioral responses. Recently, we showed differences among some Death Valley populations in brain expression of arginine vasotocin (AVT). As AVT regulates both hydromineral balance and social behaviors in other taxa, these population differences may indicate adaptive changes in osmoregulatory and/or behavioral processes. To test whether AVT is relevant for behavioral shifts in these fish, here we examined how manipulations to the AVT system affect agonistic and reproductive behaviors in Amargosa River pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis amargosae). We administered exogenous AVT (0.1, 1, and 10 Ag/g body weight) and an AVP V1 receptor antagonist (Manning compound, 2.5 μg/g body weight) intraperitoneally to males in mixed-sex groups in the laboratory. We found that AVT reduced the initiation of aggressive social interactions with other pupfish but had no effect on courtship. The effects of AVT were confirmed in males in the wild where AVT (1 Ag/g body weight) reduced the aggressive initiation of social interactions and decreased aggressive responses to the behavior of other males. Combined, these results show that AVT can modulate agonistic behaviors in male pupfish and support the idea that variation in AVT activity may underlie differences in aggression among Death Valley populations.