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Biol Reprod. 1986 Dec;35(5):1195-201.

Plasma steroid hormones in relation to behavioral sex role reversal in the spotted sandpiper, Actitis macularia.


Plasma samples collected from spotted sandpipers during the reproductive season were analyzed for testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), estradiol-17 beta and progesterone. Prior to incubation, plasma testosterone and DHT levels were significantly greater in males than in females. Estradiol levels of paired females were significantly greater than those of paired males. Testosterone and DHT levels of unpaired resident and paired males were significantly greater than those of incubating and brooding males. A 25-fold decline in testosterone occurred in males from the 1- or 2-egg stage to the 3-egg stage, when incubation is initiated. In females, testosterone values were low in unpaired, brooding, and transient birds. Paired females had levels 7-fold greater than unpaired birds. In both sexes, there was a strong correlation between testosterone and DHT levels. Prolactin values were negatively correlated with testosterone and DHT in males. These results indicate that the high level of intrasexual competition for mates among female spotted sandpipers is not based upon a total reversal of the normal male/female levels of androgens and estradiol. Territoriality and intense competition for mates in females may be based upon enhanced receptivity of neural centers to moderate hormone levels. Relative changes in testosterone between unpaired and paired females indicates that this hormone may play a role in mate acquisition and territoriality of these sex role-reversed females.

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