The influence of parental age and weather on testosterone concentration and offspring survival in broods of tawny owlStrix aluco

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Previous research has suggested that parental condition may affect offspring mortality patterns by affecting offspring testosterone levels. Accordingly, we hypothesized that there is a relationship between offspring testosterone concentration and survival during the early nestling period, and that both are influenced by parent age/experience and by prey availability. We tested our hypothesis on tawny owls Strix aluco in their first and third known breeding seasons, when they bred either in adverse or mild weather conditions, in Duna-Ipoly National Park, Hungary. Plasma testosterone concentrations of the nestlings were analyzed and related to parental condition, hatching order and nestling mortality. Inexperienced parents breeding in all weather conditions and experienced parents breeding in adverse conditions were both in poor condition compared to experienced parents breeding in mild conditions. Parents in poor condition produced broods with large between-sibling differences in testosterone concentrations and their later-hatched nestlings (which had low testosterone levels) died during the early nestling period, whereas parents in good condition produced broods with lower variation in offspring testosterone concentrations and all offspring survived the early nestling period. We discuss environmental influences on the amount of testosterone deposited in eggs, and also how maternal testosterone might induce those mechanisms producing testosterone in the nestlings.

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