An Experimental Test of the Testosterone Mediated Oxidation Handicap Hypothesis in a Wild Bird
The oxidation handicap hypothesis (OHH) proposed that honesty in sexual signals is maintained when testosterone simultaneously promotes the development of elaborate signals and imposes an oxidative cost. Although there is evidence that testosterone enhances display traits in some cases, relatively few studies have tested the prediction that testosterone generates oxidative costs. We tested this prediction experimentally by administering testosterone (n=14) and control (n=14) implants to free-living common yellowthroat warblers (Geothlypis trichas) and quantifying testosterone and oxidative state before and 35±15days after implantation. We interpreted our experimental results in the context of a larger database of 83 unmanipulated males observed over five breeding seasons. In our observational data, testosterone was related to aspects of the carotenoid-based bib, but these relationships were age-dependent. Bib coloration was related to testosterone only for first time breeders, while bib size was positively and negatively associated with testosterone among experienced and inexperienced breeders, respectively. Two measures of oxidative metabolism-damage to DNA and total antioxidant capacity (TAC)-were unrelated to endogenous testosterone. Despite the correlation between endogenous testosterone and plumage, our experimental results failed to support the key prediction of the OHH. Testosterone treated males had higher levels of TAC upon recapture, but oxidative damage to DNA did not differ from controls. Because antioxidants can protect against the harmful effects of oxidative stress, one interpretation of our results is that males physiologically compensated for elevated testosterone, avoiding the honesty enforcing mechanism of the OHH. Taken together, our results suggest that testosterone is not a direct mediator of honest signaling in yellowthroats via its effects on oxidative stress.
Hormones and Behavior
Taff, Conor C. and Freeman-Gallant, Corey R., "An Experimental Test of the Testosterone Mediated Oxidation Handicap Hypothesis in a Wild Bird" (2014). Biology Faculty Scholarship. 11.