Natural Selection on Testosterone Production in a Wild Songbird Population

Jodie M. Jawor, University of Southern Mississippi


Because of their role in mediating life-history trade-offs, hormones are expected to be strongly associated with components of fitness; however, few studies have examined how natural selection acts on hormonal variation in the wild. In a songbird, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), field experiments have shown that exogenous testosterone alters individuals' resolution of the survival-reproduction trade-off, enhancing reproduction at the expense of survival. Here we used standardized injections of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to assay variation in the testosterone production of males. Using measurements of annual survival and reproduction, we found evidence of strong natural selection acting on GnRH-induced increases in testosterone. Opposite to what would be predicted from the survival-reproduction trade-off, patterns of selection via survival and reproduction were remarkably similar. Males with GnRH-induced testosterone production levels that were slightly above the population mean were more likely to survive and also produced more offspring, leading to strong stabilizing selection. Partitioning reproduction into separate components revealed positive directional selection via within-pair siring success and stabilizing selection via extrapair mating success. Our data represent the most complete demonstration of natural selection on hormones via multiple fitness components, and they complement previous experiments to illuminate testosterone's role in the evolution of life-history trade-offs.