Ontogenetic and mechanistic explanations of within-sex behavioral variation in a lizard with temperature- dependent sex determination
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The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a reptile species in which embryonic temperature contributes both to sex determination and within- sex polymorphisms. Its life history makes the leopard gecko a model system for seeking ontogenic and proximate explanations for within-sex variation in sexually dimorphic behavior and neurophysiology, necessary attributes for reproductive success. For my dissertation I have incorporated the role of androgens that potentially modulate incubation temperature effects on behavioral and brain variation, which I approached using embryo and adult leopard geckos. First, I found that that the bias of same-sex clutch siblings is primarily incubation temperature- dependent and any maternal or genetic effects on same-sex clutch siblings are secondary. Second, I found that testosterone concentrations in the yolk-albumen were higher in eggs of late development than early development at 26 °C, a female-producing incubation temperature, but did not differ from eggs incubated at another female-biased temperature. This increase in testosterone concentrations during the temperature sensitive period in putative females is a finding opposite of reported trends in most other reptiles studied to date. Further, I found that the embryonic environment influences male sociosexual investigation in the absence of gonadal hormones. Lastly, in adult males of 32.5 °C, a male-biased incubation temperature, I found that the phosphoprotein DARPP-32 that is activated by the D1 dopamine receptor in limbic brain regions is correlated to this sociosexual investigatory behavior. Neurons immunopositive for phosphorylated DARPP-32 were not only less dense in the nucleus accumbens of males who spent more time with other males, but also more dense in the preoptic area of males who spent more time with females. The use of phosphorylated DARPP-32 as marker for sociosexual exposure is novel in a lizard species. Taken together, in support of previous studies, these results show that differences in embryonic environment stem primarily from incubation temperature, can explain behavioral differences in adulthood in the absence of hormones, and, in concert with hormonal manipulation, can influence neuronal marker sensitivity to sociosexual exposure.