Seasonal timing of reproduction is a key life-history trait, but we know little about the mechanisms underlying individual variation in female endocrine profiles associated with reproduction. In birds, 17β-estradiol is a key reproductive hormone that links brain neuroendocrine mechanisms, involved in information processing and decision making, to downstream mechanisms in the liver, where egg-yolk is produced. Here we test, using a simulated induction of the reproductive system through a GnRH-challenge, whether the ovary of pre-breeding female great tits responds to a brain stimulation by increasing estradiol. We also assess how this response is modified by individual-specific traits like age, ovarian follicle size and personality, using females from lines artificially selected for divergent levels of exploratory behaviour. We show that a GnRH injection leads to a rapid increase in circulating concentrations of estradiol but responses varied among individuals. Females with more developed ovarian follicles showed stronger responses and females from lines selected for fast exploratory behaviour showed stronger increases compared to females from the slow line, indicating a heritable component. This study shows that the response of the ovary to a reproductive stimulation from the brain greatly varies among individuals and that this variation can be attributed to several commonly measured individual traits, which sheds light on the mechanisms shaping heritable endocrine phenotypes.
|Date made available
|15 Apr 2019