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Experimentally Elevated Plasma Testosterone Levels Do Not Influence Singing Behaviour of Male Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus) During the Early Breeding Season


Bart Kempenaers, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Behavioural Ecology & Evolutionary Genetics, Postfach 1564, D-82305 Starnberg/Seewiesen, Germany.


Sexual selection theory suggests that females might prefer males on the basis of testosterone (T)-dependent secondary sexual traits such as song. Correlational studies have linked high plasma T-levels to high diurnal song output. This has been confirmed in experiments where T-levels were kept high at times when natural T-levels have decreased. However, surprisingly little is known about the relation between T-levels during the early breeding season and song. In many passerine birds males sing at a high rate at dawn early in the breeding season, referred to as the dawn chorus. In blue tits (Parus caeruleus), the dawn chorus coincides with the fertile period of the female, whereas diurnal song occurs throughout the breeding season. Previous studies on blue tits showed that characteristics of the dawn chorus correlate with male reproductive success. We experimentally elevated plasma T-levels in male blue tits during the pre-fertile and fertile period. Our aim was to test whether increased plasma T-levels affect dawn song characteristics and increase the amount of diurnal song. Although T-implants successfully raised circulating T-levels, we did not find any difference between T- and control males in temporal performance measures of dawn song or in diurnal song output. Our results suggest that either there is no direct causal link between song output or quality and individual T-levels, or experimental manipulations of T-levels using implants do not permit detection of such effects during the early breeding season. Although we cannot exclude that individual T-levels are causally linked to other (e.g. structural) song parameters, our results cast doubt on T-dependence as the mechanisms that enforces honesty on song as a sexually selected trait.