Digit Ratio in Birds

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Abstract

The Homeobox (Hox) genes direct the development of tetrapod digits. The expression of Hox genes may be influenced by endogenous sex steroids during development. Manning (Digit ratio. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002) predicted that the ratio between the lengths of digits 2 (2D) and 4 (4D) should be sexually dimorphic because prenatal exposure to estrogens and androgens positively influence the lengths of 2D and 4D, respectively. We measured digits and other morphological traits of birds from three orders (Passeriformes, house sparrow, Passer domesticus; tree swallow, Tachycineta bicolor; Pscittaciformes, budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulates; Galliformes, chicken, Gallus domesticus) to test this prediction. None were sexually dimorphic for 2D:4D and there were no associations between 2D:4D and other sexually dimorphic traits. When we pooled data from all four species after we averaged right and left side digits from each individual and z-transformed the resulting digit ratios, we found that males had significantly larger 2D:4D than did females. Tetrapods appear to be sexually dimorphic for 2D:4D with 2D:4D larger in males as in some birds and reptiles and 2D:4D smaller in males as in some mammals. The differences between the reptile and mammal lineages in the directionality of 2D:4D may be related to the differences between them in chromosomal sex determination. We suggest that (a) natural selection for a perching foot in the first birds may have overridden the effects of hormones on the development of digit ratio in this group of vertebrates and (b) caution be used in making inferences about prenatal exposure to hormones and digit ratio in birds. Anat Rec, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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