, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 24-30

Experimental evidence of a testosterone-induced shift from paternal to mating behaviour in a facultatively polygynous songbird

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Previous studies have suggested that testosterone (T) profiles of male birds reflect a trade-off between mate attraction behaviours (requiring high T levels) and parental care activities (requiring low T levels). In this study, we experimentally elevated T levels of monogamous males in the facultatively polygynous European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), and compared mate attraction and paternal behaviour of T-treated males with those of controls (C-males). T-males significantly reduced their participation in incubation and fed nestlings significantly less often than C-males. Females paired to T-treated males did not compensate for their mate’s lower paternal effort. The observed reduction in a male’s investment in incubating the eggs was accompanied by an increased investment in typical female-attracting behaviours: T-males spent a significantly higher proportion of their time singing to attract additional females. They also occupied more additional nestboxes than C-males, although the differences just failed to be significant, and carried significantly more green nesting materials into an additional nestbox (a behaviour previously shown to serve a courtship function). T-males also behaved significantly more aggressively than C-males. During the nestling period, the frequency of mate-attracting behaviours by T-treated and control males no longer differed significantly. Despite the reduced paternal effort by T-males and the lack of compensation behaviour by females, hatching and breeding success did not differ significantly between T- and C-pairs.

Received: 7 February 2000 / Revised: 10 August 2000 / Accepted: 3 September 2000