An androgenic endocrine disruptor alters male mating behaviour in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata)

Michael Grant Bertram, Minna Mari Saaristo, Tiarne E. Ecker, John Baumgartner, Bob B.M. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Hormonally active chemical pollution threatens human and wildlife populations globally. However, despite the well-established capacity of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to alter reproductive traits, relatively few studies have examined the impacts of EDCs on mechanisms of sexual selection. This study investigated the effects of short-term exposure to an environmentally realistic level of 17β-trenbolone—a potent anabolic steroid used in livestock production worldwide—on male mate preference, reproductive behavior, and morphology in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). Male guppies prefer to mate with larger females because such females are generally more fecund. Hence, males gain direct fitness benefits by being choosy. Here, we found no significant effect of 17β-trenbolone exposure on male courting behavior, with both unexposed and exposed males courting larger females more often. However, exposure to 17β-trenbolone significantly altered the amount of coercive copulatory behavior (“sneak” matings) performed. Specifically, while both unexposed and exposed males demonstrated a preference for larger females by conducting more sneaking attempts toward these females, exposed males carried out a greater number of sneaks toward large females than did unexposed males. Further, exposure resulted in increased male condition index (i.e., mass relative to length). Together, our results show for the first time that 17β-trenbolone can alter reproductive behavior and morphology in male fish at concentrations as low as 4 ng/L, highlighting the potential for disruption of reproductive processes in wildlife exposed to this potent agricultural contaminant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1255–1263
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • agricultural pollution
  • endocrine disrupting chemical
  • pharmaceutical
  • reproductive behavior
  • sexual selection
  • trenbolone

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