CZAAWE Resource Article

Relationship between rank and plasma testosterone and cortisol in red deer males (Cervus elaphus)
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Physiology & Behavior
The objective of this study was to assess the effect of a change in the social composition in a group of red deer males on the relationship between their rank and testosterone. A group of twelve adult red deer males (Cervus elaphus) was tested in two social settings. From April 15 to June 9 (Period 1) this group was kept separately in an enclosure. On June 10, nine 3-year-old males were added to that group of adult males. They were kept together until August 31. We performed 10 observations of the group when the agonistic interactions of the males were recorded and we took 9 blood samples per male in Period 1; 11 observations were made and 10 samples were taken in Period 2. Concentrations of testosterone and cortisol were later determined in plasma. Adding much younger and smaller sparring partners into the experimental group of adult males in Period 2 altered the agonistic behaviour of the adults even though this did not trigger any change in rank position of the experimental males except one. Adult males targeted preferentially their attacks on individuals much lower in the hierarchy. Experimental male deer with higher social rank had lower levels of testosterone in Period 1; in Period 2 it was just the opposite. In Period 1 the animals had higher cortisol levels than in Period 2. As controls we used four adult (5 years old) males sharing the enclosure with four 3-year-old males. No changes in hormone concentrations were observed in the control group. Thus, changing the social environment of adult red deer males resulted in change of the relationship between rank and testosterone and cortisol concentrations.