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Horm Behav. 2007 Jan;51(1):46-53. Epub 2006 Sep 26.

Effects of artificial social stimuli on the reproductive schedule and hormone levels of yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes).

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Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The effects of social stimuli on avian reproductive behaviors such as breeding schedules and courtship behaviors are well known due to numerous field studies. However, studies that have simultaneously examined the effects of social stimuli on reproductive behavior and the mediating endocrine mechanisms have been largely restricted to captive populations, which may not be representative of free-living populations. This study, conducted over two breeding seasons, aimed to simultaneously measure the effects of experimentally increasing auditory stimuli on the breeding schedule and endocrinology (levels of total androgen, estradiol, progesterone and prolactin) on free-living yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes). The yellow-eyed penguin is the least colonial of all penguins, nesting far apart from each other under dense vegetation, and, therefore, is presumed to experience much lower levels of social stimuli than other penguins. Egg laying was significantly more synchronous and tended to be earlier when birds were exposed to playbacks of the calls of conspecifics in 1 year of the study. We also found that levels of total androgen and estradiol of males in 1 year, and prolactin in another year, were proportionally higher among treated birds compared control birds that received no artificial auditory stimuli. These results show that even among supposedly solitary nesters, social stimuli could still play a role in influencing reproductive behavior and physiology. For the first time in free-living seabirds, we have demonstrated that behavioral responses to increased social stimuli are associated with hormonal changes.

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