Testosterone response to GnRH in a female songbird varies with stage of reproduction: implications for adult behaviour and maternal effects
1. Despite considerable recent interest in plasma and yolk testosterone (T) in female birds, relatively little is known about environmental regulation of female T, individual variation in female T or the relationship between plasma and yolk T. 2. In breeding females of a wild population of dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), we assessed variation in the responsiveness of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis to a challenge with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) by measuring circulating T before and 30 min after a standardized injection of GnRH. We asked whether response to challenge varied seasonally or with stage of reproduction and whether it was repeatable within individuals or related to T deposited in eggs. 3. Initial and post-challenge levels of T were measured using enzyme immunoassay. In a subset of these females, luteinising hormone (LH) was measured using radioimmunoassay (RIA). In addition, eggs were collected from nests of 15 females that had received a GnRH challenge, and yolk T was measured using RIA. 4. During most of the breeding season, plasma T did not increase in response to GnRH. GnRH consistently caused increases in plasma T only during the 7 days before oviposition, when females were rapidly depositing yolk in eggs but had not yet begun to lay them. Among a small subset of females we found a positive correlation between the magnitude of this increase in plasma T in response to GnRH during egg development and the amount of T deposited in the yolk of eggs collected at a later time. 5. These results suggest that ovarian response to GnRH-induced increases in LH is greatest when females are actively depositing yolk into eggs. Factors that stimulate the release of GnRH during egg formation may result in higher levels of plasma T which could influence adult female behaviour. Further, because plasma T was correlated with later yolk T, factors that stimulate GnRH release may also lead to higher levels of yolk T potentially influencing offspring development or behaviour.