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J Exp Zool. 1996 Oct 1;276(2):157-63.

Environment modifies the testosterone levels of a female bird and its eggs.

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Rockefeller University, Field Research Center for Ecology and Ethology, Millbrook, New York 12545, USA.


Past studies have shown that the yolk of the canary (Serinus canaria) egg contains maternal testosterone, that its concentrations increase in the subsequently formed eggs of a clutch, and that testosterone influences development. The present study investigated 1) if the testosterone levels vary in the female during yolk formation; 2) how such putative variations may be related to the concentrations of maternal testosterone in the yolk; and 3) if environmental factors, such as day length, can modify the testosterone levels in the mother and her eggs. Maternal testosterone levels, measured in the females' feces, increased during yolk formation and egg laying, and decreased during incubation. This pattern was modified by day length. In a photoperiod of 12 h of light and 12 h of darkness (12L 12D), female testosterone levels decreased after the last egg of the clutch was laid while in a photoperiod of 16L 8D, they decreased after the first egg was laid. These different patterns were reflected in the testosterone concentrations in the egg yolk. Further, the eggs of subsequent clutches that were produced under a naturally changing photoperiod differed significantly in their testosterone concentrations. Finally, the doses of testosterone in the yolk of individual eggs were positively correlated with the concentrations of testosterone in the female during the yolk phase of each egg. I conclude that here we have a mechanism which communicates environmental conditions from the mother to the offspring, and that this mechanism serves to optimize reproduction and/or modify offspring traits.

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