Manipulation of male attractiveness induces rapid changes in avian maternal yolk androgen deposition

Sjouke A. Kingma, Jan Komdeur, Oscar Vedder, Nikolaus Von Engelhardt, Peter Korsten, Ton G.G. Groothuis

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Avian eggs contain maternal androgens that may adjust offspring development to environmental conditions. We review evidence and functional explanations for the relationship between androgen concentrations in avian eggs and male attractiveness. Experimental studies in captive birds show generally positive relationships, but results from correlational and experimental field studies are less consistent, perhaps because they lack a within-female design to control for confounding between-female variation. We analyzed the effect of male attractiveness on yolk levels of maternal androgens in a wild bird, using a correlational and experimental approach with a within-female design. We manipulated the sexually selected UV coloration of the crown feathers of male blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) after their female had laid the second egg and measured the subsequent effect on androgen concentrations (testosterone and androstenedione) in the fifth, seventh, and ninth eggs relative to that in the second egg. Levels of testosterone, but not androstenedione, in eggs 5 and 7 were higher for control (attractive) than for UV-reduced (unattractive) males. This effect disappeared in the ninth egg, coinciding with the recovery of UV coloration after manipulation. This suggests that females are capable of rapid adjustments of testosterone deposition in response to changes in their mate's ornamental plumage. However, androgen concentrations in the second egg and pretreatment male crown coloration were not correlated. Possibly, the combination of relatively small variation in UV coloration before treatment and the influence of unknown confounding variables in the correlative approach resulted in insufficient statistical power to detect such a correlation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-179
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date23 Oct 2008
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Blue tit Cyanistes (formerly Parus) caeruleus
  • Differential allocation
  • Male attractiveness
  • Maternal effects
  • Testosterone
  • UV coloration
  • Yolk hormones


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