The effects of elevated testosterone on plumage hue in male House Finches

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2001
Journal:Journal of Avian Biology
Date Published:2001
ISBN Number:1600-048X
Keywords:Fringillidae, Haemorhous, Haemorhous mexicanus
Abstract:The majority of studies examining the role of hormones in the proximate mechanisms of plumage coloration in birds have focused on intersexual differences (plumage dichromatism) and on structural- or melanin-based plumage coloration. The relationship between hormones and carotenoid-based plumage color, and in particular intrasexual plumage color variation, has received little attention. We manipulated testosterone levels of both captive and wild male House Finches to determine whether testosterone influences the expression of male plumage color in this species. We found that in captive male House Finches elevated testosterone delayed molt and resulted in drabber, less red plumage, even when birds were supplemented with dietary carotenoids. Elevated testosterone also resulted in drab plumage color in wild males, and appeared to delay molt in wild birds as well. Wild males implanted with testosterone showed wide variation in expression of plumage coloration. Those implanted early in the year molted plumage similar in color to their pre-treatment plumage, but those implanted later molted substantially duller plumage, possibly because delayed molt resulting from elevated testosterone caused these males to molt when carotenoid pigments were not available in sufficient amounts. These observations have the potential to explain previously reported relationships between plumage color and behavior in male House Finches, and highlight the importance of considering the proximate mechanisms of plumage coloration in avian sexual selection.
Short Title:Journal of Avian Biology
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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith