Experimentally elevated levels of testosterone at independence reduce fitness in a territorial bird
Environmental conditions and individual strategies in early life may have a profound effect on fitness. A critical moment in the life of an organism occurs when an individual reaches independence and stops receiving benefits from its relatives. Understanding the consequences of individual strategies at the time of independence requires quantification of their fitness effects. We explored this period in the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus). In this system, testosterone and parasite (Trichostrongylus tenuis) levels are known to influence survival and reproduction, the two key components of individual fitness. We experimentally and simultaneously manipulated testosterone and parasites at three levels (high, intermediate, and control levels for both factors) in 195 young males in five populations using a factorial experimental design. We explored the effects of our treatments on fitness by monitoring reproduction and survival throughout the life of all males and estimating kind, a rate-sensitive index of fitness. Parasite challenges increased the number of worms with a time lag, as previously found. However, we did not find significant effects of parasite manipulations on fitness, possibly because parasite abundance did not increase to harmful levels. Our hormone manipulation was successful at increasing testosterone at three different levels. Such increases in hormone levels decreased overall fitness. This was caused by reduced offspring production in the first breeding attempt rather than by any effect of the treatment on bird survival. Our results highlight that investing in high testosterone levels at independence, a strategy that might enhance short-term recruitment probability in territorial species such as Red Grouse, has a fitness cost, and can influence the resolution of the trade-off between reproduction and survival later in life.