Modulation of acoustic communication in an African cichlid fish

January 3 – Febuary 28, 2021

Meeting Abstract

S9-7  Wed Jan 6 15:00 – 15:30  Modulation of acoustic communication in an African cichlid fish Maruska, KP; Louisiana State University

Animals that cycle in and out of breeding condition often experience drastic hormonal and physiological changes that can impact context-dependent behaviors. Less is known, however, about how these reproductive-state hormone variations might influence processing of sensory information used for courtship and reproduction. Dominant males of the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni produce low frequency sounds as part of their visual quiver courtship displays directed at receptive females, and these females prefer to affiliate with males that produce sounds. Females cycle between gravid receptive and parental brooding stages, and auditory evoked potential recordings show that gravid females have better hearing in the frequency range of male courtship sounds compared to non-receptive brooding females. This improved sensitivity is correlated with higher circulating levels of estradiol but not androgens. Females also have greater levels of aromatase (enzyme that converts testosterone to estradiol) in the auditory midbrain as they approach spawning condition, suggesting that local estradiol production may modulate processing of salient courtship signals. Auditory-evoked single neuron responses in the torus semicircularis also suggest improved auditory sensitivity in reproductive females. We are currently testing whether acute aromatase inhibition impacts hearing sensitivity, providing a functional link to estrogenic signaling. Collectively, this work shows endocrine and reproductive-state dependent plasticity in the auditory system of female cichlids that rely on visual-acoustic courtship signals from males. For females that invest heavily in maternal care, like A. burtoni, improved perception of courtship-related sensory information as they approach spawning receptivity may allow them to make more informed mate choice decisions.

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