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Horm Behav. 2010 Aug;58(3):526-32. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.04.004. Epub 2010 Apr 18.

Short-term exposure to testosterone propionate leads to rapid bill color and dominance changes in zebra finches.

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Department of Biology, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA 17604, USA.


Testosterone (T) can influence both male-male competition and mate choice displays. In zebra finches, female mate choice is based in part on bill color, and bill color has been shown to be enhanced by long-term testosterone supplementation. However, it is not clear whether bill color plays a role in male-male interactions and how bill color responds to shorter-term changes in T. We tested whether a single injection of testosterone propionate (TP) would influence male-male dominance interactions and lead to rapid (over a three-day period) changes in bill color. In addition, we tested whether bill color predicted aggression and dominance. We allowed birds in triads to establish hierarchies and then injected either dominant or subordinate individuals with TP, in addition to establishing sham control triads. We found that red chroma, but not hue, predicted aggressiveness of males. Exposure to TP led both dominant and subordinate birds to increase dominance scores over three days, longer than the <24h period in which injected TP stays active. In addition, exposure to TP increased red chroma and hue in three days showing the dynamic nature of allocation of pigments to the bill. Our results suggest that zebra finches can modulate T and bill color levels over short time periods and these changes may occur through positive feedback between T-levels and dominance.

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