Testosterone increases repertoire size in an open-ended learner : an experimental study using adult male European starlings (**Sturnus vulgaris**)
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Hormones and behavior. - New York
, p. 563-568
University of Antwerp
Song in songbirds is a learned secondary sexual behavior, first acquired during a sensitive phase of juvenile development, which is affected by hormones such as testosterone (T). While the latter has received much attention, the potential involvement of T in the adult repertoire changes observed in a number of species is much less understood. Yet, this may prove essential to understand the role of song as a sexually selected trait. We therefore performed a T-implantation experiment during the non-breeding season (when T is basal), using adult male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a songbird species in which song repertoire size (and composition) changes seasonally and increases with age. Repertoire size increased rapidly in T-males, but not in control males, indicating a role for T in repertoire size changes. This increase resulted from a lower proportion of dropped song types in T-males than in control males, while the proportion of added song types did not differ between both groups. Interestingly, the observed repertoire turnover (adding and removing song types from the repertoire) in both groups, suggests that elevated plasma T levels were not essential for changes in repertoire composition (contrary to repertoire size). Finally, T-males (but not control males) significantly increased their song rate, while neither group showed a significant change in their song bout length and phrase repetition rate. Taken together, our results suggest a role for T in adult song learning and provide new insights into the information content of repertoire size and song bout length as sexually selected traits.