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1.  Monogamy on the fast track 
Biology Letters  2007;3(6):617-619.
Social monogamy has evolved multiple times and is particularly common in birds. It is not well understood why some of these species are continuously and permanently paired while others occasionally ‘divorce’ (switch partners). Although several hypotheses have been considered, experimental tests are uncommon. Estrildid finches are thought to be permanently paired because being short-lived opportunistic breeders, they cannot afford the time to form a new pair relationship. Here it is shown through a controlled experimental manipulation that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) allowed to remain with their partners to breed again are faster to initiate a clutch (by approx. 3 days) than birds separated from their mates that have to re-pair, supporting the hypothesis that continuous pairing speeds up initiation of reproduction, a benefit of long-term monogamy in a small, short-lived, gregarious species.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0388
PMCID: PMC2391224  PMID: 17848359
monogamy; mating systems; opportunistic breeder; zebra finch; clutch initiation
2.  No sex difference in yolk steroid concentrations of avian eggs at laying 
Biology Letters  2005;1(3):318-321.
Yolk steroids of maternal origin have been proposed to influence genetic sex determination in birds, based on sex differences in yolk steroid concentrations of peafowl eggs incubated for 10 days. More recent reports dispute this proposal, as yolk steroids in eggs incubated for 3 days do not show such sex differences. To date, research examining this phenomenon has only analysed incubated eggs, although sex in avian species is determined before incubation begins. This may be a serious methodological flaw because incubation probably affects yolk steroid concentrations. Therefore, we investigated sex differences in yolk steroid concentrations of unincubated avian eggs. We withdrew yolk for steroid analysis from fresh, unincubated Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) eggs by biopsy, and then incubated those eggs for 10 days, after which we harvested the embryonic material for genetic sexing and the incubated yolk for further steroid analysis. We found no sex differences in fresh Japanese quail eggs; however, sex differences were apparent in yolk steroids by day 10 of incubation, when female eggs had significantly more oestrogen in relation to androgen than male eggs. Concentrations of all yolk androgens decreased dramatically between laying and day 10 of incubation, whereas oestradiol (E2) concentrations increased marginally. Thus, yolk concentrations of androgens and E2 do not appear critical for avian sex determination.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2005.0321
PMCID: PMC1617136  PMID: 17148197
avian yolk steroids; testosterone; oestrogen; sex determination; Coturnix japonica; incubation
3.  High progesterone during avian meiosis biases sex ratios toward females 
Biology Letters  2005;1(2):215-218.
Evidence of altered primary sex ratios in birds shows that mothers can manipulate the sex of their offspring before oviposition. In birds, females are the heterogametic sex (ZW) and males are homogametic (ZZ). Sex is determined in the first meiotic division, when one sex chromosome is retained in the oocyte and the other segregates to the polar body. Altered primary sex ratios suggest that birds may be capable of biasing the segregation of sex chromosomes during meiosis I. During the time of meiosis I, follicular steroid production is limited primarily to progesterone (P4). We experimentally manipulated the levels of P4 in female domestic chickens during the approximate time of meiosis I. We advanced the ovulation of the first egg of a sequence (or clutch) with a subcutaneous injection of P4. We found a significant effect of P4 dose on the sex of the resulting egg. The high progesterone group produced 25% males whereas the low progesterone group produced 61% males and the control group produced 63% males in the first ovulation of the sequence. We propose that variation in maternal progesterone during the critical time for genetic sex determination is the mechanism for primary sex ratio manipulation in birds.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2004.0283
PMCID: PMC1626207  PMID: 17148170
sex ratio; sex allocation; progesterone; meiosis; domestic chicken

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