TitleThe effects of sex on chemosensory communication in a terrestrial salamander (Plethodon shermani)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsSchubert, SN, Houck, L, Feldhoff, PW, Feldhoff, RC, Woodley, SK
JournalHormones and Behavior
Type of ArticleJournal Article

Although much evidence reveals sexually dimorphic processing of chemosensory cues by the brain, potential sex differences at more peripheral levels of chemoreception are understudied. In plethodontid salamanders, the volume of the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is almost twice as large in males as compared to females, both in absolute and relative size. To determine whether the structural sexual dimorphism in VNO volume is associated with sex differences in other peripheral aspects of chemosensation, we measured sex differences in chemo-investigation and in responsiveness of the VNO to chemosensory cues. Males and females differed in traits influencing stimulus access to VNO chemosensory neurons. Males chemo-investigated ("nose tapped") neutral substrates and substrates moistened with female body rinses more than did females. Compared to females, males had larger narial structures (cirri) associated with the transfer of substrate-borne chemical cues to the lumen of the VNO. These sex differences in chemo-investigation and narial morphology likely represent important mechanisms for regulating sex differences in chemical communication. In contrast, males and females did not differ in responsiveness of VNO chemosensory neurons to male mental gland extract or female skin secretions. This important result indicates that although males have a substantially larger VNO compared to females, the male VNO was not more responsive to every chemosensory cue that is detected by the VNC. Future studies will determine whether the male VNO is specialized to detect a subset of chemosensory cues, such as female body rinses or female scent marks. (c) 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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