, Volume 61, Issue 8, pp 1211-1217
Date: 06 Feb 2007

Androgen-dependent maternal effects on offspring fitness in zebra finches

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Abstract

There is accumulating evidence that maternal hormones may play a role in offspring sex adjustment, but little is known about the costs of such hormone-mediated mechanisms. Recent studies have reported sex-specific effects of hormones on offspring viability. Specifically, we previously found that elevating the plasma androgen level in mothers results in a male-biased offspring primary sex ratio, but it affects the viability of sons negatively and daughters positively in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata; Rutkowska and Cichoń, Anim Behav, 71:1283–1288, 2006). In this study, we studied further fitness consequences of exposure to elevated yolk androgen levels in zebra finches. We measured growth rate and cellular immune response of nestlings that hatched from eggs laid by females injected with testosterone during egg laying and nestlings of unaffected control females. We found that sons of testosterone-treated females grew slower in comparison to sons of control females. The significant interaction between experimental group and offspring sex indicates that sons of testosterone-treated mothers suffered impaired immune responsiveness while daughters seemed to benefit from elevated androgen level in terms of enhanced immune responsiveness. We found no effects of androgens on offspring performance at adulthood—neither fecundity of females nor attractiveness of males was affected. We conclude that the benefits of biasing sex ratio towards males by increasing androgen level in the yolk may be limited due to negative effects on male offspring performance early in life.

Communicated by J. Graves