To breed or not to breed: Physiological correlates of reproductive status in a facultatively biennial iguanid

Maren N. Vitousek, Mark A. Mitchell, L. Michael Romero, Jessica Awerman, Martin Wikelski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is unusual for seasonal breeders to frequently skip opportunities for reproduction. We investigated the relationship between physiological state and reproductive decision-making in Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), a species in which females typically reproduce biennially, although the proportion of breeding individuals varies significantly across years. Nearly all adult-sized females initiated follicular development prior to the lekking period, but 38% of females resorbed all developing follicles 5-15 days before the start of copulations. Receptive and non-receptive females differed in reproductive hormones during the mate choice period. Testosterone peaked in receptive females immediately prior to copulation, indicating that testosterone or its derivative estradiol likely mediates female receptivity in Galápagos marine iguanas. Non-receptive females showed significant peaks in both testosterone and progesterone during follicular atresia, suggesting that these hormones may be involved in inhibiting vitellogenesis. Two to three weeks prior to the period of reproductive decision-making (and the onset of follicular atresia in non-receptive females) receptive females were in higher body condition, were developing larger follicles, and had lower levels of both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone. Reproduction is extremely costly in this long-lived species, and increases the likelihood of mortality in the year following breeding; females could therefore gain significant benefits from being attuned to indicators of reproductive success. We suggest that corticosterone may modulate reproductive decisions by altering individual sensitivity to both internal and external cues of the likelihood of successful reproduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-146
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Amblyrhynchus cristatus
  • Corticosterone
  • Follicular development
  • Marine iguana
  • Receptivity
  • Reproduction
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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