Social stimulation, nuptial colouration, androgens and immunocompetence in a sexual dimorphic cichlid fish

Peter D. Dijkstra, Renske Hekman, Rüdiger W. Schulz, Ton G.G. Groothuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The nature of the costs maintaining honesty of sexual signalling in inter- and intrasexual interactions remains a contentious issue. For carotenoid-based colour ornaments, it has been hypothesized that the honesty of the signal is enforced when carotenoid allocation to colour expression is traded off against carotenoid availability for immunocompetence. In addition, honesty is enforced if androgens required for colour expression are immunosuppressive. We tested whether there is a trade-off between colour expression and immunocompetence in a lek-breeding haplochromine cichlid fish, Pundamilia nyererei, from Lake Victoria with a carotenoid-based nuptial dress. First, we showed that expression of red nuptial colouration and social rank in a group were positively correlated. We then successfully manipulated the level of colour advertisement by socially stimulating individually housed males with a rival male: Stimulated males developed larger areas of red nuptial colouration and had higher levels of circulating 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) than non-stimulated males. We subsequently tested the humoral immune response to a novel antigen (sheep red blood cells). There was no overall significant effect of social stimulation on antibody production, but in the stimulated males, the degree of red colouration and the antibody response were negatively correlated. This significant interaction between colour and treatment thus shows that the negative correlation between colouration and antibody production is dependent on the (manipulated) social environment. This study provides correlational and experimental evidence for a trade-off between expression of a sexual trait and one component of immune function in fish. We found no evidence for a direct effect of 11-KT on antibody production, and we discuss alternative mechanisms that could mediate the trade-off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-609
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Cichlid fish
  • Immunocompetence
  • Lake Victoria
  • Male-male competition
  • Sexual selection


Dive into the research topics of 'Social stimulation, nuptial colouration, androgens and immunocompetence in a sexual dimorphic cichlid fish'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this