Free-living gerbils with higher testosterone take fewer risks

Shani Sarid, Hen Naor, Mustafa Asfur, Irina S. Khokhlova, Boris R. Krasnov, Burt P. Kotler, A. Allan Degen, Michael Kam, Lee Koren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Among the physiological differences between the sexes are circulating androgen levels. Testosterone (T) is an androgen that has been linked to aggression and risk-taking in male vertebrates, so that males with higher T are generally more aggressive and take more risks. In females, T is not often measured, and its relationship with behaviour has been less studied. The costs of elevated T are assumed to be higher for reproductive females, while the benefits higher for males. Here, we tested the association between endogenous T and risk-taking behaviours in both males and females under well-studied experimental settings in free-living Baluchistan gerbils (Gerbillus nanus; Gn). In addition, we experimentally elevated Gn T levels using implants and measured risk-taking behaviour. Surprisingly, we found that there were no differences in the association between T and risk-taking behaviours between males and females, and that in both sexes, Gn with higher T levels took fewer risks. We also found that Gn spent equal time foraging between risky (open habitat) and safe (under a bush) experimental food patches. We expected Gn, which are nocturnal, to take fewer risks during full moon nights, but found that Gn were more active during moon lit nights than during dark (new moon) nights. This study demonstrates that T has many functions, and that its effects are complex and often unpredictable. It also shows that hypotheses regarding the propensity to take risks under specific coverage and light regimes are not universal, and likely include variables such as species, environment, context, and predator-specific behavioural strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114277
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Gerbils
  • Hair-testing
  • Moonlight
  • Risk-taking
  • Sex differences
  • Steroid manipulation
  • Testosterone


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