Context-specific territorial behavior in urban birds: No evidence for involvement of testosterone or corticosterone

H. Bobby Fokidis, Miles Orchinik, Pierre Deviche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Testosterone produced by the gonads is a primary mediator of seasonal patterns of territoriality and may directly facilitate territorial behavior during an encounter with a potential intruder. Costs and benefits associated with territoriality can vary as a function of habitat, for example through differences in resource distribution between areas occupied by different individuals. We investigated behaviors in response to simulated territorial intrusions (hereafter territorial behaviors) in urban (Phoenix, Arizona) and nearby desert populations of two Sonoran Desert birds (Curve-billed Thrasher and Abert's Towhee). We also examined the degree to which these behaviors are mediated by testosterone (T) and the adrenal steroid, corticosterone (CORT), which can interact with T in territorial contexts. In both species, urban birds displayed more territorial behaviors than their desert conspecifics, but this difference was not associated with variation in either plasma total or in plasma free (i.e., unbound to binding globulins) T or CORT. In addition, neither plasma T nor plasma CORT changed as a function of duration of the simulated territorial intrusion. Urban Abert's Towhees displayed more territorial behaviors in areas where their population densities were high than in areas of low population densities. Urban Curve-billed Thrashers displayed more territorial behaviors in areas with a high proportion of desert-type vegetation, particularly in areas that differed in vegetation composition from nearby randomly sampled areas, than in areas with a high proportion of exotic or non-desert type vegetation. Associations between territorial behavior and habitat characteristics were not related to plasma T or CORT. Understanding the hormonal processes underlying these associations between behavior and habitat may provide insight into how free-ranging animals assess territorial quality and alter their defensive behavior accordingly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-143
Number of pages11
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Abert's Towhee
  • Aggression
  • Binding globulins
  • Challenge hypothesis
  • Corticosterone
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Population density
  • Territory quality
  • Testosterone
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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