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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2005 Sep 1;143(2):121-8. Epub 2005 Apr 8.

Seasonal gonadal recrudescence in song sparrows: response to temperature cues.

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University of Washington, Department of Zoology, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Day length predicts changing of seasons at mid-latitudes, but additional environmental cues (e.g., temperature, rainfall) give more precise information about timing of food peaks critical for offspring survival. We tested the effects of temperature on seasonal reproductive development of male song sparrows (Melospiza melodia morphna) from two populations: the Western Washington coast (3 m) and Cascade Mountains (500-1220 m). Previous work has shown that the timing of gonadal recrudescence can differ between the two sites in the field by as much as two months. However, in the laboratory under identical controlled conditions, testes grow at the same rate. To test whether temperature alone could account for a portion of the variation we measured in the field, we captured birds from each site and held them in temperature controlled environmental chambers that mimicked temperatures experienced either in the mountains or on the coast. We increased day length on a natural schedule, and measured testis volume, levels of circulating androgens and prolactin, and song rates. Increasing day length stimulated gonadal growth in all groups. We found only modest effects of temperature on reproductive development. In the mountain birds colder, montane temperatures slowed rates of growth, delaying the onset of growth by one month. Since temperature changes more markedly during the early winter months in the mountains than on the coast, increasing temperature may be a more relevant cue in timing of reproduction in the mountain population. These data suggest that while temperature helps to explain some of the variation in reproductive timing of free living sparrows, another as yet untested cue in the field may play a more important role. Furthermore, our data suggest that individuals within the same species may rely on different proximate cues for reproductive timing depending on the specific habitat in which they live.

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