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Author Notes:

Brent M. Horton: O. Wayne Rollins Research Center, 1510 Clifton Road NE, Room 2006, Mail stop 1940-001-AC, Atlanta, GA 30322, U.S.A. bhorto2@emory.edu. .

We thank J. Metzler and the Forest Society of Maine for our field site, the Hemlock Stream Forest.

We are grateful to our dedicated field crews: J. Michaud (crew leader); C. McKee; C. Gurguis; A. Annis; E. Burns; J. Cava and A. Cornell provided reliable assistance under all conditions.

C. Henry provided lab and freezer space at the University of Maine.


Research Funding:

This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH 1R01MH082833 to D.L.M.); and the National Science Foundation (NSF IOS 0545735 to I.T.M.).


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Zoology
  • dihydrotestosterone
  • oestradiol
  • parental care
  • polymorphism
  • territorial aggression
  • testosterone white-throated sparrow
  • Zonotrichia albicollis

New insights into the hormonal and behavioural correlates of polymorphism in white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis


Journal Title:

Animal Behaviour


Volume 93


, Pages 207-219

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


The white-throated sparrow is a promising model for behavioural neuroendocrinology and genetics because behaviour and endocrine function may be linked to a chromosomal rearrangement that determines plumage colour. The notion that the two colour morphs, tan-striped (TS) and white-striped (WS), differ predictably in aggression and parenting has been widely accepted, despite conflicting evidence. It is also hypothesized that morph-typic behaviour is hormone-mediated, yet no field study has measured sex steroids and behaviour in the same birds. Here, we re-evaluate the TS and WS phenotypes, describe the conditions under which they differ and investigate relationships between sex steroids and behaviour. We report that (1) during territorial intrusions, WS males were more aggressive than TS birds, but this difference was restricted to singing; WS males sang more than TS males but showed identical levels of physical aggression. WS females sang more than TS females and were also more physically aggressive. (2) TS males provisioned young more frequently than did WS males, but only during first broods. The parental strategy of WS males was flexible, and during replacement broods, WS and TS males provisioned at equal rates. (3) Consistent with previous studies, we detected no morph difference in female provisioning. (4) Plasma testosterone and dihydrotestosterone were higher in WS males than in TS males during periods of peak territorial defence and during first broods; within breeding stages, male androgen levels were positively correlated with singing and negatively correlated with provisioning. Plasma oestradiol levels were higher in WS females than in TS females and higher during peak territorial defence; oestradiol levels tended to be positively correlated with singing. Overall, our results refine the TS and WS phenotypes, show that behavioural differences between them are restricted to periods with relatively high mating opportunity, and demonstrate an association between sex steroids and morph-typic behaviour. These results will inform future studies of this promising model.

Copyright information:

© 2014 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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