Odours of caterpillar-infested trees increase testosterone concentrations in male great tits

Ségolène Delaitre, Marcel E. Visser, Kees van Oers, Samuel P. Caro

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Trees release Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatiles (HIPVs) into the air in response to damage inflicted by insects. It is known that songbirds use those compounds to locate their prey, but more recently the idea emerged that songbirds could also use those odours as cues in their reproductive decisions, as early spring HIPVs may contain information about the seasonal timing and abundance of insects. We exposed pre-breeding great tits (Parus major) to the odours of caterpillar-infested trees under controlled conditions, and monitored reproduction (timing of egg laying, number of eggs, egg size) and two of its main hormonal drivers (testosterone and 17β-estradiol in males and females, respectively). We found that females exposed to HIPVs did not advance their laying dates, nor laid larger clutches, or larger eggs compared to control females. 17β-estradiol concentrations in females were also similar between experimental and control birds. However, males exposed to HIPVs had higher testosterone concentrations during the egg-laying period. Our study supports the hypothesis that insectivorous songbirds are able to detect minute amounts of plant odours. The sole manipulation of plant scents was not sufficient to lure females into a higher reproductive investment, but males increased their reproductive effort in response to a novel source of information for seasonal breeding birds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105491
JournalHormones and Behavior
Early online date09 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2024


  • Birds
  • Herbivore-induced plant volatiles
  • Olfaction
  • Reproduction
  • Reproductive hormones
  • Seasonal timing


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