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Effects of a social cue on reproductive development and pre-alternate molt in seasonally breeding migrant and resident female songbirds (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2947-2956
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue numberpt16
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2017


To time reproduction optimally, birds have evolved diverse mechanisms by which they respond to environmental changes that help them anticipate and prepare for the breeding season. While residents initiate reproductive preparation and breed in the same geographic location, migrant birds simultaneously prepare for breeding and migration far from their breeding grounds. As a result, it is hypothesized that migrant and resident birds use environmental cues differently to prepare to breed and that there is adaptive specialization in mechanisms regulating reproductive preparation. Specifically, residents are expected to rely more on non-photic cues (e.g. food, temperature, social cues) than migrants. We tested this general prediction using a social cue manipulation. First, we compared the effects of subspecies-appropriate recorded male song on reproductive development in migrants and residents on a naturally increasing photoperiod. Second, we tested the sensitivity of migrant-specific life history events (fattening and pre-alternate molt) to song treatment. After 82 days, residents had higher luteinizing hormone and greater ovarian development than migrants, but song treatment had no effect on these metrics in either subspecies. Song advanced pre-alternate molt but had no effect on fattening in migrants. While our study does not support specialization in social cue use in migrants and residents, it is consistent with findings in the literature of specialization in photoperiodic response. It also demonstrates for the first time that social cues can influence molt in a migrant species. Additional findings from a pilot study looking at responses to a live male suggest it is important to test other kinds of social cues.

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