Individual variation in testosterone and parental care in a female songbird; The dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)

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Abstract

When competition for sex-specific resources overlaps in time with offspring production and care, trade-offs can occur. Steroid hormones, particularly testosterone (T), play a crucial role in mediating such trade-offs in males, often increasing competitive behaviors while decreasing paternal behavior. Recent research has shown that females also face such trade-offs; however, we know little about the role of T in mediating female phenotypes in general, and the role of T in mediating trade-offs in females in particular. Here we examine the relationship between individual variation in maternal effort and endogenous T in the dark-eyed junco, a common songbird. Specifically, we measure circulating T before and after a physiological challenge (injection of gonadotropin releasing hormone, GnRH), and determine whether either measure is related to provisioning, brooding, or the amount of T sequestered in egg yolk. We found that females producing more T in response to a challenge spent less time brooding nestlings, but provisioned nestlings more frequently, and deposited more T in their eggs. These findings suggest that, while T is likely important in mediating maternal phenotypes and female life history tradeoffs, the direction of the relationships between T and phenotype may differ from what is generally observed in males, and that high levels of endogenous T are not necessarily as costly as previous work might suggest.

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