The Effects of Low Levels of Light at Night Upon the Endocrine Physiology of Western Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica)

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Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) in the suburbs breed earlier than jays in native habitat. Amongst the possible factors that influence this advance (e.g., food availability, microclimate, predator regime, etc.), is exposure to artificial lights at night (LAN). LAN could stimulate the reproductive axis of the suburban jays. Alternatively, LAN could inhibit pineal melatonin (MEL), thus removing its inhibitory influence on the reproductive axis. Because Florida scrub-jays are a threatened species, we used western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) to investigate the effects of LAN upon reproductive hormones and melatonin. Jays were held under conditions in which the dark-phase of the light:dark cycle was without illumination and then under low levels of LAN. Under both conditions, birds were exposed first to short-days (9.5L:14.5D) that were gradually increased to long-days (14.5L:9.5D). At various times, blood samples were collected during the light part of the cycle to measure reproductive hormones (luteinizing hormone, LH; testosterone, T; and estradiol, E2). Similarly, samples to assess melatonin were collected during the dark. In males, LAN caused a depression in LH levels and levels were ∼4× greater under long- than short-days. In females, there was no effect of LAN or photoperiod upon LH. LAN resulted in depressed T levels in females, although there was no effect on T in males. E2 levels in both sexes were lower under LAN than under an unlighted dark-phase. Paradoxically, MEL was higher in jays under LAN, and under long-days. MEL did not differ by sex. LAN disrupted the extraordinarily strong correlation between T and E2 that existed under unlighted nocturnal conditions. Overall, our findings fail to support the hypothesis that LAN stimulates the reproductive axis. Rather, the data demonstrate that LAN tends to inhibit reproductive hormone secretion, although not in a consistent fashion between the sexes. J. Exp. Zool. 319A: 527–538, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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