Bare-part color in female budgerigars changes from brown to structural blue following testosterone treatment but is not strongly masculinized
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Faculty of Social Sciences. Instructional and Educational Sciences
Engineering sciences. Technology
, p. 1-11
University of Antwerp
Whereas several studies have shown that experimentally increased levels of the androgenic steroid testosterone can affect female behavior, fewer studies have focused on the activational effects of exogenous testosterone on female morphology. With respect to colorful displays in birds, almost exclusively the effects of testosterone manipulation on female carotenoid-based colorations have been studied. Other color types such as structural colors (i.e. UV, blue and violet colors that result from differential light reflection in the nanostructures of the tissue) remain largely unstudied. Here, we investigated the short- and long-term effects of exogenous testosterone on the expression of structural bare-part coloration in female budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus. In this parrot species, bare-part coloration is expressed in the cere, a structure over the beak which is brown in females and structural blue in males. We experimentally increased plasma testosterone levels in testosterone-treated females (T-females) compared to controls (C-females) and we performed weekly spectrophotometric measurements of the cere for five weeks after implantation and one measurement after ten weeks. We also estimated the extent to which testosterone masculinized female cere color by comparing the experimental females with untreated males. We found significant effects of testosterone on cere color from week four after implantation onwards. T-females expressed significantly bluer ceres than C-females with higher values for brightness and UV reflectance. T-female cere color, however, remained significantly less blue than in males, while values for brightness and UV reflectance were significantly higher in T-females than in males. Our quantitative results show that exogenous testosterone induces the expression of structural blue color in females but does not strongly masculinize female cere coloration. We provide several potential pathways for the action of testosterone on structural color.