Maternal testosterone affects offspring telomerase activity in a long-lived seabird

Noguera, J.C. and Velando, A., 2022. Maternal testosterone affects offspring telomerase activity in a long‐lived seabird. Ecology and Evolution, 12(9), p.e9281.

Androgens are a group of steroid hormones that have long been proposed as a mechanism underpinning intergenerational plasticity. In birds, maternally allocated egg testosterone, one of the main androgens in vertebrates, affects a wide variety of offspring phenotypic traits but the mechanisms underlying this form of intergenerational plasticity are not yet well understood. Recent in vitro and animal model studies have shown that telomerase expression and activity are important targets of androgen signaling. The telomerase enzyme is known for its repair function on telomeres, the DNA–protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes that are involved in genomic integrity and cell aging. However, the role of maternal testosterone in influencing offspring telomerase levels in natural populations and its consequences on telomere length and potentially on offspring development is still unknown. Here, by experimentally modifying the level of egg testosterone in a natural population of yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), we show that chicks hatched from testosterone-treated eggs had higher average levels of telomerase and faster growth than controls during the first week of life. While testosterone-treated chicks also tended to have longer telomeres than controls at hatching this difference disappeared by day 6 of age. Overall, our results suggest that maternal testosterone may have a potential adaptive value by promoting offspring growth and presumably telomerase levels, as this enzyme plays other important physiological functions (e.g., stress resistance, cell signaling, or tissue genesis) besides telomere lengthening. Nonetheless, our knowledge of the potential adaptive function of telomerase in natural populations is scarce and so the potential pathways linking maternal hormones, offspring telomerase, and fitness should be further investigated.


Effect of testosterone on the behaviour of yellow-legged gulls (Larus cachinnans) in a high-density colony during the courtship period

Alonso-Alvarez, C. & Velando, A., 2001. Effect of testosterone on the behaviour of yellow-legged gulls (Larus cachinnans) in a high-density colony during the courtship period. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 13(4), pp.341-349.

Yellow-legged gulls breed in high density areas, and the condition dependent hypothesis suggests that birds with high physical condition can obtain breeding benefits in high-density areas because they are able to pay off the energetic costs of aggressive behaviour and territory defence. This study and others showed a relationship between aggressiveness or copulation behaviour and nest-density during the pre-laying period in gulls. The link between density and behaviour can be explained by the strong competition for space and mates. Testosterone regulates male behaviour and can play an important role in the condition-dependent hypothesis. We tested the effects of testosterone implants on male breeding behaviour. In a high-density colony, testosterone-implanted male yellow-legged gulls showed higher aggression and copulation frequencies than controls during the courtship period. In addition, these testosterone-treated birds acquired larger territories than the controls. Thus, a high testosterone level can increase individual fitness in densely populated areas given the benefits derived, on the one hand, from a large territory and, on the other, from an increased copulation rate that would guarantee the male’s paternity of the chicks born in his own nest. Since testosterone increases energetic requirements, only high-quality males would be able to pay off the costs of high levels of testosterone and so obtain the benefits of breeding in high-density areas. Testosterone could therefore provide a proximate mechanism regulating nest density in gull colonies.

Effects of testosterone implants on pair behaviour during incubation in the Yellow‐legged Gull Larus cachinnans

Alonso‐Alvarez, C., 2001. Effects of testosterone implants on pair behaviour during incubation in the Yellow‐legged Gull Larus cachinnans. Journal of Avian Biology, 32(4), pp.326-332.

The Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans is monogamous with bi-parental incubation. In this study, the effects of high levels of plasma testosterone in male Yellow-legged Gulls during the incubation period were analysed. Free-living male gulls were implanted with testosterone (T-males), and their sexual behaviour within the pair was observed and compared with that of control pairs. Egg temperatures, length of incubation and hatching success were also analysed. T-males and their mates displayed more sexual behaviour than the controls. T-males engaged in mounting behaviour with their mates, whereas control males did not. Proportionally less time was spent incubating (in relation to time present in the colony) by T-males than control males. However, the mates of T-males did not spend more time incubating than control females to compensate for male neglect, although they did spend more time on the territory. Egg temperature in T-male nests was significantly lower than in control nests, but no significant difference in the length of incubation or hatching success between the two groups was found. In birds, the effects of high testosterone levels on male behaviour during incubation have only been analysed in a polyandrous species whose females usually do not contribute to incubation. The present results thus suggest that those males of a monogamous species with biparental incubation that sustain high testosterone levels after laying, thus reducing their contributions to incubation, will be confronted with a lack of compensation from their mates during incubation. Finally, this lack of female compensation seems to be mediated by behavioural interactions with the male rather than by her absence
from the colony.