Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, 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)


  • Kathleen E. Hunt
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 106 Guyot Hall, Princeton University Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
  • Thomas P. Hahn
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 106 Guyot Hall, Princeton University Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
  • John C. Wingfield
    • Department of Zoology, Box 351800 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

DOI: 10.1007/s002650050572

Cite this article as:
Hunt, K., Hahn, T. & Wingfield, J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1999) 45: 360. doi:10.1007/s002650050572


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.

Key wordsCalcarius lapponicusTestosteroneParental behaviorArctic

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1999