Female starlings adjust primary sex ratio in response to aromatic plants in the nest

Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) Science Article 1


Adjustment of offspring sex ratios should be favoured by natural selection when parents are capable of facultatively altering brood sex ratios and of recognizing the circumstances that predict the probable fitness benefit of producing sons and daughters. Although experimental studies have shown that female birds may adjust offspring sex ratios in response to changes in their own condition and in the external appearance of their mate, and male attributes other than his external morphology are also thought to act as signals of male quality, it is not known whether females will respond to changes in such signals, in the absence of any change in the appearance of the male himself. Here, we experimentally manipulated a male courtship display, the green plants carried to the nest by male spotless starlings (Sturnus unicolor), without changing any physical attributes of the male himself, and examined whether this influenced female decisions on offspring sex ratio. We found that in an environment in which female starlings were producing more daughters than sons, experimental enhancement of the green nesting material caused females to significantly increase the number of male eggs produced and thereby removed the female bias. This effect was consistent in 2 years and at two localities. This demonstrates that the green material, whose function has long puzzled biologists, conveys important information to the female and that she facultatively adjusts offspring production accordingly.

Vicente Polo, Jose P. Veiga, Pedro J. Cordero, Javier Vinuela and Pat Monaghan, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2004) 271, 1929-1933

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