Increased mite parasitism as a cost of testosterone in male striped plateau lizards Sceloporus virgatus

Robert M. Cox, Henry B. John-Alder

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74 Scopus citations


1. Testosterone (T) co-ordinates the seasonal and sex-specific expression of numerous physiological, behavioural and morphological traits that contribute to male reproductive success. However, increased susceptibility to parasitism has been proposed as a potential cost of elevated plasma T. 2. During the spring breeding season, male striped plateau lizards Sceloporus virgatus harbour significantly more ectoparasitic mite larvae (Acari: Trombiculidae) than females. Plasma T levels are also elevated in males at this time, suggesting that sex differences in mite parasitism may be driven by underlying sex differences in circulating T. 3. We tested this hypothesis experimentally by manipulating plasma T levels of yearling males via surgical castration and exogenous T implants. Upon recapture of free-living animals, we found significantly fewer mites on castrated males relative to either intact controls or castrated males that received T implants. 4. After removing variance attributable to treatment effects, we observed (1) a positive correlation between residual measures of plasma T and mite load, and (2) a negative correlation between residual measures of mite load and growth rate. These correlations suggest a growth cost associated with mite parasitism. 5. Previous studies have shown that exogenous T increases parasitism, but ours is one of the few to show that castration also reduces parasitism. This result, coupled with the fact that our induced plasma T levels remain within physiological limits, makes this one of the clearest demonstrations of a functional relationship between T and parasitism in any free-living vertebrate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-334
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Castration
  • Cost of reproduction
  • Growth rate
  • Immunocompetence handicap hypothesis
  • Trombiculidae


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