, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 207-212

Increased egg estradiol concentration feminizes digit ratios of male pheasants (Phasianus colchicus)

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The length ratio between individual digits differs between males and females in humans, other mammals, lizards, and one bird species. Sexual dimorphism in digit ratios and variation among individuals of the same sex may depend on differential exposure to androgens and estrogens during embryonic life. Organizational effects of sex hormones could cause the observed correlations between digit ratios and diverse phenotypic traits in humans. However, no study has investigated experimentally the effect of prenatal estrogens on digit ratios. We analyzed the effect of estradiol injection in ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) eggs on digit ratios. Males from control eggs had higher ratios between the second or third and the fourth digit of the right foot compared to females. Estradiol-treated eggs produced males with lower (feminized) right foot second to fourth digit ratio. Thus, we provided the first experimental evidence that prenatal exposure to physiologically high estrogen levels affects bird digit ratios.