Like many teleosts, male bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) provide sole parental care. To understand some of the proximate costs of parental care, we measured body condition and plasma levels of testosterone (T), 11-ketotestosterone (11KT) and cortisol in nesting bluegill males during pre-spawning, spawning and parental care stages. T and 11KT were at their highest mean levels during the pre-spawning period and decreased to lower levels early during the parental care period before rising again when the eggs hatched. Cortisol levels fluctuated across the breeding stages, but there was a noticeable increase from low levels on the day of spawning during the first 2 days of parental care when egg fanning is most intense. Levels of all hormones varied considerably among males, with androgen levels often correlating positively with a male's body condition. We also demonstrate, using a brood reduction experiment and repeated sampling of known individuals, that the presence of eggs affects hormone levels shortly after eggs hatch. Parental males in better body condition had higher levels of androgens during parental care. Males that were known to renest later in the season also had higher androgen levels and were in better body condition during the first nesting bout than males only known to have nested once. However, circulating levels of cortisol did not differ significantly between these groups. We discuss our findings in the context of proximate and ultimate costs of parental care and propose several reasons why elevated androgen levels may not be as incompatible with the expression of paternal care in male teleosts, as compared with avian and mammalian fathers. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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