Steroid hormones are critical regulators of reproductive life history, and the steroid sensitive traits (morphology, behavior, physiology) associated with particular life history stages can have substantial fitness consequences for an organism. Hormones, behavior and fitness are reciprocally associated and can be used in an integrative fashion to understand how the environment impacts organismal function. To address the fitness component, we highlight the importance of using reliable proxies of reproductive success when studying proximate regulation of reproductive phenotypes. To understand the mechanisms by which the endocrine system regulates phenotype, we discuss the use of particular endocrine proxies and the need for appropriate functional interpretation of each. Lastly, in any experimental paradigm, the responses of animals vary based on the subtle differences in environmental and social context and this must also be considered. We explore these different levels of analyses by focusing on the fascinating life history transitions exhibited by the bi-directionally hermaphroditic fish, Lythrypnus dalli. Sex changing fish are excellent models for providing a deeper understanding of the fitness consequences associated with behavioral and endocrine variation. We close by proposing that local regulation of steroids is one potential mechanism that allows for the expression of novel phenotypes that can be characteristic of specific life history stages. A comparative species approach will facilitate progress in understanding the diversity of mechanisms underlying the contextual regulation of phenotypes and their associated fitness correlates.
Pradhan, D. S., T. K. Solomon-Lane and M. S. Grober (2015). "Contextual modulation of social and endocrine correlates of fitness: insights from the life history of a sex changing fish." Frontiers in Neuroscience 9(8). http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2015.00008
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