Chemical analysis reveals sex differences in the preen gland secretion of breeding Blue Tits

Barbara A. Caspers, Reinaldo Marfull, Tim Dannenhaus, Jan Komdeur, Peter Korsten

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Abstract

Acoustic and visual signals are well known to play important roles in social communication in birds. Growing evidence suggests that many bird species, including species of songbirds, additionally have a well-developed sense of smell. However, we are still at the beginning of understanding the potential importance of chemical communication in the social lives of birds, for example in mate choice. The secretion of the preen gland may be an important contributor to the chemical phenotype of birds. Here, we report on a first characterisation of the chemical composition of the preen gland secretion of the Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), a common songbird which is an often used model species in animal behaviour and ecology, in particular also in studies of sexual selection and (extra-pair) mate choice. We found sex differences in the composition of the preen gland secretion in breeding Blue Tits. Females further tended to have a larger number of putative compounds in their secretions compared to males. We briefly discuss the possible implications of these findings and speculate that the chemical composition of the preen gland secretion may be a sexually selected trait in Blue Tits. Our preliminary findings warrant follow-up research into the patterns of within- and among individual variation in the chemical composition of the preen gland secretion as well as the identification of the main chemical compounds involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-198
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Volume163
Issue number1
Early online date11 Aug 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Avian olfaction
  • Cyanistes caeruleus
  • Sexual selection
  • Uropygial gland
  • VOCs

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