Personality and gonadal development as sources of individual variation in response to GnRH challenge in female great tits

Samuel P Caro (Corresponding author), Charlotte A Cornil, Kees van Oers, Marcel E Visser

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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-oestradiol 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 Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) challenge, whether the ovary of pre-breeding female great tits responds to brain stimulation by increasing oestradiol. 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 oestradiol, 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 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190142
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1902
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019


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