Egg testosterone affects wattle color and trait covariation in the ring-necked pheasant
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- Bonisoli-Alquati, A., Rubolini, D., Caprioli, M. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2011) 65: 1779. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1186-2
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Transfer of maternal hormones to the eggs is a major source of offspring phenotypic variation. The developmental and organizational effects of egg hormones can extend into adulthood and affect behavioral and morphological traits involved in sexual and reproductive behavior, with important consequences for offspring fitness. In this study, we injected testosterone (T) in egg albumen of captive ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) eggs. We then assessed the consequences for chick growth, cell-mediated immunity, and multiple male secondary sexual traits at maturity by comparison with a control group. We also compared the covariation between traits in the two experimental groups. We found that control males had redder wattles than males from T-injected eggs, suggesting that attractiveness and reproductive success of the offspring might vary depending on maternal transfer of T to the eggs. T treatment also modified the covariation between cell-mediated immunity and wattle coloration and between the area of the wattle and the expression of another secondary sexual trait, the ear tufts. These effects are likely to translate into fitness differences among the offspring if mate acquisition depends on the simultaneous expression of several traits that are differentially affected by the same maternal contribution. Maternal effects mediated by egg hormones might affect the fitness of the offspring not only by directional modification of phenotypic traits, but also by facilitating or inhibiting their covariation. This suggests the possibility that female choice based on the relative expression of multiple secondary sexual traits exerts a pressure on how maternal transfer of androgens contributes to developmental programs.