Not only males but also females compete over reproduction. In a population of free-living house mice (Mus musculus domesticus), we analyzed how (metabolic) costs of aggressive interactions (reflected in fresh wounds and long-term corticosterone concentrations in hair) are predicted by individual reproductive physiology and reproductive success in males and females. Over eight years, we studied wounds and reproduction of more than 2800 adults under naturally varying environmental conditions and analyzed steroid hormones from more than 1000 hair samples. Hair corticosterone were higher and wounds more frequent in males than females. In males, wound occurrence increased with increasing breeding activity in the population, without affecting hair corticosterone levels. Unexpectedly, individual male reproductive success did not predict wounds, while hair corticosterone increased with increasing levels of hair testosterone and reproductive success. High corticosterone in hair of males might therefore reflect metabolic costs of fighting over reproduction. In females, hair corticosterone was generally lower than in males and high levels did not impede pregnancy. Reproductive investment (reflected in hair progesterone) was dissociated from reproductive success. Occasional wounds in females indicated individuals without recent reproductive success and revealed reproductive competition, presumably driven by instability in the social environment. In both sexes, corticosterone increased with age, but there was no evidence that received overt aggression, as indicated by wounds or elevated corticosterone, suppressed reproductive physiology. Our results diverge from laboratory findings and emphasize the need to also study animals in their natural environment in order to understand the complexity of their behavioral physiology.
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