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8 - Endocrinology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2009

Stephan J. Schoech
Affiliation:
University of Memphis
S. James Reynolds
Affiliation:
University of Memphis, Present address: University of Birmingham
Raoul K. Boughton
Affiliation:
University of Memphis
Walter D. Koenig
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
Janis L. Dickinson
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
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Summary

In the nearly 80 years since Skutch (1935) coined the term “helper-at-the-nest,” cooperative breeding has attracted considerable interest, to no small extent because helping to raise non-descendant young violates a primary tenet of Darwinian theory. This “paradox” of how cooperative breeding could have evolved and subsequently have been maintained was partially resolved first by Hamilton (1963), who introduced the concept of kin-selected benefits by individuals that assist in rearing related individuals other than their own offspring, and later by Brown (1978), Koenig and Pitelka (1981), and Emlen (1982a), who developed the hypothesis that cooperatively breeding species were constrained by specific habitat requirements that induced philopatry, thus setting the stage for helping behavior.

Here we focus on the contributions of field endocrinology to our proximate-level understanding of cooperative breeding. Given that hormones are involved in mediating virtually all aspects of an organism's life and affect functions as diverse as gut absorption, blood production, and reproductive and agonistic behaviors, we can expect that they will also play an important role in the various kinds of cooperative and competitive interactions characteristic of cooperative breeders.

BACKGROUND

Reproductive hormones

Two endocrine axes are of primary interest here: the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis and the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPG axis consists of a region of the forebrain known as the hypothalamus, the pituitary that lies immediately below, and the gonads (Fig. 8.1). In response to stimulatory environmental or endogenous cues, the hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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