, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 549-560
Date: 25 Oct 2005

Effects of prenatal yolk androgens on armaments and ornaments of the ring-necked pheasant

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Mothers may profoundly affect offspring phenotype and performance by adjusting egg components, including steroid hormones. We studied the effects of elevated prenatal testosterone (T) exposure in the ring-necked pheasant on the expression of a suite of male and female traits, including perinatal response to stress, immune response, growth, and secondary sexual traits. Prenatal T levels were increased by injecting the yolk of unincubated eggs with physiological doses of the hormone. Yolk T injection resulted in a reduced length of male tarsal spurs, a trait which positively predicts male success in intra- and intersexual selection and viability, whereas no direct effect on male wattle characteristics or plumage traits of either sex was observed. Female spur length was also negatively affected by T, but to a lesser extent than in males. In addition, the covariation between male secondary sexual traits, which are reliable quality indicators, differed between T and control males, suggesting that the manipulation may have altered the assessment of overall male quality by other males and females. In conclusion, the negative effects of elevated yolk T on spur length, a trait which positively predicts male fitness, coupled with the lack of effects on growth or other traits in both sexes, provided limited evidence for mothers being subjected to a trade-off between positive and negative consequences of yolk T deposition on offspring traits and suggest that directional selection for reduced yolk T levels may occur in the ring-necked pheasant.

Communicated by J. Graves