Behavioural mating displays depend on mitochondrial function: a potential mechanism for linking behaviour to individual condition

Rebecca E. Koch, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Males of many animal species court females using complex behavioural displays that are challenging to produce, and some of these displays have been shown to be associated with aspects of male quality. However, the mechanisms by which behavioural displays are linked to individual condition remain uncertain. Herein, we illustrate fundamental mechanistic connections between mitochondrial function and neurogenesis, energy production, and a variety of pathways that underlie the ability of an individual to perform complex behaviours. We consider the biomedical evidence for how mitochondrial activity shapes neurogenesis during development and neural function in adulthood, and how both genetics and environmental conditions can cause variation in mitochondrial function in wild animals. An individual's mitochondrial phenotype determines not just metabolism and available energy, but also appears to serve as an important driver of capacity to perform cognitively complex and other challenging display behaviours. We apply this concept to the example of birdsong, a well-studied display behaviour with known links to neural pathways, and we describe how mitochondrial involvement in a variety of important internal processes creates links between display quality and key traits like immunocompetence. By synthesizing the intimate involvement of mitochondria in neural processes with the physiological bases of display behaviour, we aim to provide new mechanistic explanations for information that females may gain by assessing complex male displays.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1387-1398
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • birdsong
  • cognition
  • honest signalling
  • ornament
  • physiological condition
  • sexual display

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