Maternal stress to partner quality is linked to adaptive offspring sex ratio adjustment

Sarah R. Pryke, Lee A. Rollins, William A. Buttemer, Simon C. Griffith

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    27 Citations (Scopus)


    Female birds have been shown to have a remarkable degree of control over the sex ratio of the offspring they produce. However, it remains poorly understood how these skews are achieved. Female condition, and consequent variation in circulating hormones, provides a plausible mechanistic link between offspring sex biases and the environmental and social stresses commonly invoked to explain adaptive sex allocation, such as diet, territory quality, and body condition. However, although experimental studies have shown that female perception of male phenotype alone can lead to sex ratio biases, it is unknown how partner quality influences female physiological state. Using a controlled within-female experimental design where female Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) bred with both high-and low-quality males, we found that partner quality directly affects female hormonal status and subsequent fitness. When constrained to breeding with low-quality males, females had highly elevated stress responses (corticosterone levels) and produced adaptive male-biased sex ratios, whereas when they bred with high-quality males, females had low corticosterone levels and produced an equal offspring sex ratio. There was no effect of other maternal hormones (e.g., testosterone) or body condition on offspring sex ratios. Female physiological condition during egg production, and variation in circulating hormones in particular, may provide a general mechanistic route for strategic sex allocation in birds.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)717-722
    Number of pages6
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


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