Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 549–560 | Cite as

Effects of prenatal yolk androgens on armaments and ornaments of the ring-necked pheasant

  • Diego Rubolini
  • Maria Romano
  • Roberta Martinelli
  • Barbara Leoni
  • Nicola SainoEmail author
Original Article


Mothers may profoundly affect offspring phenotype and performance by adjusting egg components, including steroid hormones. We studied the effects of elevated prenatal testosterone (T) exposure in the ring-necked pheasant on the expression of a suite of male and female traits, including perinatal response to stress, immune response, growth, and secondary sexual traits. Prenatal T levels were increased by injecting the yolk of unincubated eggs with physiological doses of the hormone. Yolk T injection resulted in a reduced length of male tarsal spurs, a trait which positively predicts male success in intra- and intersexual selection and viability, whereas no direct effect on male wattle characteristics or plumage traits of either sex was observed. Female spur length was also negatively affected by T, but to a lesser extent than in males. In addition, the covariation between male secondary sexual traits, which are reliable quality indicators, differed between T and control males, suggesting that the manipulation may have altered the assessment of overall male quality by other males and females. In conclusion, the negative effects of elevated yolk T on spur length, a trait which positively predicts male fitness, coupled with the lack of effects on growth or other traits in both sexes, provided limited evidence for mothers being subjected to a trade-off between positive and negative consequences of yolk T deposition on offspring traits and suggest that directional selection for reduced yolk T levels may occur in the ring-necked pheasant.


Maternal effects Multiple ornaments Phasianus colchicus Secondary sexual traits Sex-specific effects Testosterone 



We warmly thank all the people that helped us with handling and measurement of pheasants, E. Collado for advice on color measurements, N. von Engelhardt, and two referees for useful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diego Rubolini
    • 1
  • Maria Romano
    • 2
  • Roberta Martinelli
    • 2
  • Barbara Leoni
    • 2
  • Nicola Saino
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Biologia AnimaleUniversità degli Studi di PaviaPaviaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

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