Influences of weather on reproductive function in female Song sparrows, Melospiza melodia



Prolonged and severe periods of inclement weather can retard gonadal development in early spring or disrupt the breeding cycle in summer. Previous investigations on the endocrine responses of free-living avian species to storms have been restricted almost entirely to males. This communication presents the endocrine responses of free-living female Song sparrows, Melospiza melodia, during gonadal recrudescence after a severe winter, and during storms in early spring and summer. As in males, gonadal recrudescence was delayed by the severe winter weather, and this effect was exacerbated by an aseasonal snow storm in early spring. Unlike males, female Song sparrows did appear to be stressed by this snow storm, since body mass and fat deposit decreased, and plasma levels of corticosterone increased. A second storm in early summer did not, however, prove to be stressful to females, although males were apparently stressed by the same storm. At the time the early summer storm occurred, young had been fledged and were being fed mostly by the male. Females begin preparing for a second clutch of eggs and do not feed fledglings to the same extent as males. Thus it is possible that males are stressed by storms at this time, because they are feeding several young as well as themselves during a period of reduced availability of food, whereas females are feeding themselves only. These data suggest that, not only do the endocrine responses to inclement weather vary in relation to stage in the reproductive cycle when storms strike, but also that there are sex differences in those responses.