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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Jan 7;273(1582):65-70.

Sex-specific effects of yolk testosterone on survival, begging and growth of zebra finches.

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  • 1Research Group Animal Behaviour, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands.


Yolk androgens affect offspring hatching, begging, growth and survival in many bird species. If these effects are sex-specific, yolk androgen deposition may constitute a mechanism for differential investment in male and female offspring. We tested this hypothesis in zebra finches. In this species, females increase yolk-testosterone levels and produce male-biased sex ratios when paired to more attractive males. We therefore predicted that especially sons benefit from elevated yolk androgens. Eggs were injected with testosterone or sesame oil (controls) after 2 days of incubation. Testosterone had no clear effect on sex-specific embryonic mortality and changed the pattern of early nestling mortality independent of offspring sex. Testosterone-treated eggs took longer to hatch than control eggs. Control males begged significantly longer than females during the first days after hatching and grew significantly faster. These sex differences were reduced in offspring from testosterone-treated eggs due to prolonged begging durations of daughters, enhanced growth of daughters and reduced growth of sons. The results show that variation in maternal testosterone can play an important role in avian sex allocation due to its sex-specific effects on offspring begging and growth.

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