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Horm Behav. 2006 Sep;50(3):442-7. Epub 2006 Jul 13.

Effects of elevated yolk androgens on perinatal begging behavior in yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) chicks.

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Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano, via Celoria 26, I-20133 Milano, Italy.


Maternal hormones may represent an important pathway by which mothers can adaptively adjust offspring traits and performance to suit the prevailing environmental conditions. Earlier studies of birds have shown that egg androgens of maternal origin may enhance post-natal offspring 'begging' displays, functioning to solicit parental care. Here we investigate the effects of elevated egg androgen levels on the prenatal begging behavior of yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) chicks. At laying, we experimentally increased the concentration of yolk testosterone (T) within the natural range of variation, and, shortly before hatching, we compared the structural properties, rate, and loudness of vocalizations of embryos developing in T- and oil-injected (control) eggs. In addition, we compared the early post-hatch begging rate (measured as the pecking rate towards a dummy gull head) in chicks of the two experimental groups. We found that T embryos produced louder embryonic vocalizations than controls, whereas structural properties and the calling rate did not differ between T and control embryos. The post-hatch begging rate was unaffected by T treatment, but strongly decreased with increasing chick body mass, suggesting that intensity of the begging display was sensitive to chick state and may therefore reliably indicate the need of food in this species. Therefore, the results of this study show for the first time that prenatal T exposure modulates the quality of embryonic vocalizations, but are not in accordance with previous findings reporting increased post-hatching begging intensity following increased prenatal exposure to androgens.

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