The stress of scramble: sex differences in behavior and physiological stress response in a time-constrained mating system

Lindsey Swierk, Sean P. Graham, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Iteroparous species maximize lifetime reproductive fitness by balancing current and future reproductive investments. In order to maximize fitness in the face of social or environmental heterogeneity, individuals of the same species may vary in whether they prioritize current reproductive opportunity or sacrifice immediate reproduction in order to prioritize survival and future reproductive potential. Glucocorticoid (GC) secretion plays an important role in mediating this trade-off by promoting behavioral and physiological responses associated with survival, often at the expense of nonessential (e.g., reproductive) functions. We used wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus [Rana sylvatica]) to test whether males and females differed in their (a) physiological response (plasma corticosterone [CORT] concentration) to standardized handling stress—a proxy for predation threat—and (b) performance of reproductive behaviors that may enhance their conspicuousness to predators. We also tested whether levels of male competition influenced sex differences in these factors, as more intense competition may require males to devote more time to risky reproductive behaviors. We found that females had lower baseline CORT but exhibited a significantly greater CORT response to a stressor and spent less time performing potentially risky behavior (surface floating) than did males. These sex differences were consistent across different levels of male mating competition. Our results reveal that during breeding, males and females may differentially respond to stressors and perform risk-prone behaviors, despite facing the same extreme breeding constraints, providing new insight into the survival-reproduction trade-off of explosively breeding species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1761-1768
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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