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Abstract

Studies of avian species have shown that maternal effects mediated by the transfer of egg hormones can profoundly affect offspring phenotype and fitness. We previously demonstrated that the injection of a physiological amount of testosterone (T) in the eggs of ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) disrupted the covariation among male morphological traits at sexual maturity and positively affected male mating success. Here, we investigate whether egg T exposure affected adult male circulating T levels at the onset of the breeding season (reflecting gonadal maturation), and the relationship between circulating T and male traits. Egg T exposure did not affect pre-mating plasma T. T levels were not associated with the expression of secondary sexual and non-sexual traits or socio-sexual behaviour (social rank, overall fighting ability and mating success). However, wattle brightness decreased with increasing circulating T in males hatched from T-eggs (T-males) but not among control males. In dyadic encounters during the peak mating period, control males with higher pre-mating T levels had higher chances of being dominant over other control males. However, higher pre-mating T levels did not predict success in male-male competition in encounters involving T-males. We suggest that the long-term effects of egg T on male phenotype do not originate from differential gonadal maturation according to egg T treatment. Rather, prenatal androgens may have priming effects on functioning of target tissues, translating into differential phenotypic effects according to androgen exposure during embryonic development.