Variation in Reproductive Behaviour within a Sex:Neural Systems and Endocrine Activation


T. Rhen, Laboratory of Signal Transduction, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, 111 T.W. Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA (e-mail:


Intrasexual variation in reproductive behaviour, morphology and physiology is taxonomically widespread in vertebrates, and is as biologically and ecologically significant as the differences between the sexes. In this review, we examine the diverse patterns of intrasexual variation in reproductive behaviours within vertebrates. By illustrating the genetic, cellular, hormonal and/or neural mechanisms underlying behavioural variation in a number of species, another level of complexity is added to studies of brain organization and function. Such information increases our understanding of the unique and conserved mechanisms underlying sex and individual differences in behaviour in vertebrates as a whole. Here, we show that intrasexual variation in behaviour may be discrete or continuous in nature. Moreover, this variation may be due to polymorphism at a single genetic locus or many loci, or may even be the result of phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity simply refers to cases where a single genotype (or individual) can produce (or display) different phenotypes. Defined in this way, plasticity subsumes many different types of behavioural variation. For example, some behavioural phenotypes are established by environmental factors during early ontogeny, others are the result of developmental transitions from one phenotype early in life to another later in life, and still other strategies are facultative with different behaviours displayed in different social contexts.