Rapid increase in aggressive behavior precedes the decrease in brain aromatase activity during socially mediated sex change in Lythrypnus dalli.
Social interactions can have profound effects on reproduction and the proximate mechanisms involved are just beginning to be understood. Lythrypnus dalli, the bluebanded goby, is an ideal organism for analyzing the dynamics of socially controlled sex change both in the laboratory and field. As with most research species, the majority of its behavioural and physiologic study has been performed in the laboratory. The goal of our study was to induce sex change of L. dalli in a more natural environment and compare field dynamics with our laboratory-based model. Groups of L. dalli, composed of one large male and three females of varying sizes, were introduced into artificial habitats in the field. After male removal, the dominant, largest female underwent protogynous sex change in the majority of the groups. Within 15 days, 9 of 15 of the dominant females (focal fish) successfully fertilized eggs as males, compared to 13 of 17 in the laboratory. Focal fish displayed the distinctive temporal sequence of behaviour changes consisting of a dominance, quiescent, and courtship phase. In addition, focal fish had gonads, genital papillae, and accessory gonadal structures with morphology in between that of females and males. Those fish that fertilized eggs had this transitional morphology, but were functionally male. Steroids of focal fish were assayed by water sample, and morning samples of free 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) positively correlated with the percent of male tissue in the gonad, with the size of the accessory gonadal structure but not the genitalia (genital papilla), and with aggressive displacement behaviour on the last day before the fish were sacrificed. These morphological, physiological, and behavioural patterns parallel those seen in the laboratory. Lower rates of behaviour and the dramatic