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J Exp Biol. 2003 Sep;206(Pt 18):3211-8.

Steroids for free? No metabolic costs of elevated maternal androgen levels in the black-headed gull.

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Dept of Animal Behaviour, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA, Haren, The Netherlands.


Within- and between-clutch variation in yolk titres of hormones of maternal origin has been found in many avian species. So far, experiments have revealed mainly beneficial effects of maternal androgens. This would also apply to black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus). Previous experiments have shown that chicks benefit from these higher levels since their competitive abilities are improved and growth and survival probabilities thus enhanced. However, not all females show the same increase in yolk hormones from first to last egg or invest equally high amounts of androgens in their clutches. Possibly, there is a trade-off between the beneficial effects of high androgen levels and potential costs, such as increased metabolic rates. We studied possible metabolic costs of experimentally elevated yolk androgen levels for chicks of several age classes, starting three days prior to hatching until fledging at an age of approximately 30 days. Daily energy expenditure in the field, measured using the doubly labelled water technique, did not differ between treatments or between sexes. Oxygen consumption measured in birds at rest in the lab (RMR) did not vary between chicks hatched from androgen-injected (T) or oil-injected (Oil) control eggs at any age in thermo-neutral or below thermo-neutral conditions. Males showed a lower RMR than females towards the fledging age. We conclude that it is unlikely that the costs of high maternal androgen levels can be found in higher energy expenditure in the chick.

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