Within-species variation in male morphology is common among vertebrates and is often characterized by dramatic differences in behavior and hormonal profiles. Males with divergent morphs also often use communication signals in a status-dependent way. Weakly electric knifefish are an excellent system for studying variation in male morphology and communication and its hormonal control. Knifefish transiently modulate the frequency of their electric organ discharge (EOD) during social encounters to produce chirps and rises. In the knifefish Compsaraia samueli, males vary extensively in jaw length. EODs and their modulations (chirps and rises) have never been investigated in this species, so it is unclear whether jaw length is related to the function of these signals. We used three behavioral assays to analyze EOD modulations in male C. samueli: (1) artificial playbacks, (2) relatively brief, live agonistic dyadic encounters, and (3) long-term overnight recordings. We also measured circulating levels of two androgens, 11-ketotestosterone and testosterone. Chirp structure varied within and across individuals in response to artificial playback, but was unrelated to jaw length. Males with longer jaws were more often dominant in dyadic interactions. Chirps and rises were correlated with and preceded attacks regardless of status, suggesting these signals function in aggression. In longer-term interactions, chirp rate declined after 1 week of pairing, but was unrelated to male morphology. Levels of circulating androgens were low and not predictive of jaw length or EOD signal parameters. These results suggest that communication signals and variation in male morphology are linked to outcomes of non-breeding agonistic contests.

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