Publication Details

Olsson, M. M., Healey, M., Wilson, M. & Tobler, M. (2012). Polymorphic male color morphs visualized with steroids in monomorphic females: a tool for designing analysis of sex-limited trait inheritance. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 215 (4), 575-577.


In diploid animals, males and females share most of the genome (except sex-specific elements, such as sex chromosome genes), yet despite sharing the underlying genes that hard-wire traits, males and females may differ in their phenotypes when traits are controlled by proximate mechanisms, such as hormones. In color polymorphic species where coloration is only expressed in one sex, the design of studies of the inheritance of color and coevolved morph-specific traits (e.g. territorial vs sneaker strategies, skewed energetic investment in territorial defense vs sperm production, etc.) is compromised as the expression of morph-coding genes is only visualized in one sex. Here, we circumvented this problem by first characterizing oxidative stress traits in both sexes and then using testosterone implants in females to expose their otherwise 'silent' coloration. Males of our model species are highly territorial and exhibit morph-specific levels of aggression, whereas females are non-territorial and display very low levels of aggression. Interestingly, reactive oxygen species levels were found to be morph specific regardless of sex, despite considerable differences in lifestyle. Males and females did differ remarkably, however, in superoxide levels depending on whether they sported a colored throat bib or not, a trait also used in male sexual signaling. Females with throat bibs had significantly lower levels of superoxide than females without a bib, which was not the case for males.



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