, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 360-369

Endocrine influences on parental care during a short breeding season: testosterone and male parental care in Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus)

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Abstract

In males of socially monogamous birds, plasma testosterone (T) typically declines to low levels during the parental phase. Studies on multiple-brooded species indicate that high T may be incompatible with high-quality paternal care. The length of the breeding season may affect the costs and benefits of high T and its effect on paternal care. We studied the effect of experimentally elevated T on paternal care in a single-brooded species with a short breeding season, the Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus). We monitored T levels and parental behavior in 16 males with subcutaneous T implants, 14 males with empty implants, and 14 unimplanted males. We videotaped nests when nestlings were 2–3 days old and again at 4–5 days. T males with 2- to 3-day-old young visited nests and fed young less often than control males, and the mates of the T males compensated with elevated visits and feedings. However, when nestlings were 4–5 days old, T males visited their nests at normal rates – though feeding movements remained below normal – and T females visited and fed at normal rates. Nestling mass and nest success were similar in both groups. Overall, high T suppresses paternal care in Lapland longspur males. The partial improvement of paternal care when nestlings are older, despite high T, may be related to the short 6-week breeding season of this arctic species, and the consequently reduced benefits of sexual behavior late in the breeding season.

Received: 2 February 1998 / Accepted after revision: 2 November 1998