Maternal Condition Affects the Offspring Testosterone Concentration in Early Nestling Period: An Experimental Test on Tawny Owls


Lajos Sasvári, Department of Zoology, Eszterházy Károly College of Education, H-3300 Eger, Leányka u. 6, Hungary. E-mail:


This study addressed the question of whether maternal condition during egg laying or the rearing environment has a greater effect on offspring testosterone levels. We tested this in field experiments on a population of tawny owls Strix aluco in Duna-Ipoly National Park, Hungary. In the experiments with females of poor condition, when broods were supplied with extra food none of the nestlings died, whereas in control broods, which were not supplied with extra food, some nestlings did die. Large differences in testosterone levels were correlated positively with hatching order both in experimental and control broods. However, it was only in control broods that the later-hatched nestlings with low testosterone concentrations, died. In the experiments with females of good condition, the males were removed and females and their broods were supplied with restricted amounts of food. In these broods starving nestlings, whose growth had stopped, were considered as having died and were removed from the nest and hand-reared. In control broods all nestlings fledged, and both in experimental and control broods testosterone concentrations were more even between siblings. Both types of trials confirmed a maternal influence on offspring testosterone concentration: large between-sibling differences in concentrations in the broods of females of poor condition, where some nestlings died, could not be reduced with increased food supply, and the more even concentrations in the broods of females in good condition, where all nestlings survived, could also not be increased by restricting the food supply.