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Hormones and Behavior



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In seasonally migratory animals, migration distance often varies substantially within populations such that individuals breeding at the same site may overwinter different distances from the breeding grounds. Shorter migration may allow earlier return to the breeding grounds, which may be particularly advantageous to males competing to acquire a breeding territory. However, little is known about potential mechanisms that may mediate migration distance. We investigated naturally-occurring variation in androgen levels at the time of arrival to the breeding site and its relationship to overwintering latitude in male and female song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). We used stable isotope analysis of hydrogen (δ2H) in winter-grown claw tissue to infer relative overwintering latitude (migration distance), combined with 14 years of capture records from a long-term study population to infer the arrival timing of males versus females. Relative to females, males had higher circulating androgen levels, migrated shorter distances, and were more likely to be caught early in the breeding season. Males that migrate short distances may benefit from early arrival at the breeding grounds, allowing them to establish a breeding territory. Even after controlling for sex and date, androgen levels were highest in individuals that migrated shorter distances. Our findings indicate that androgens and migration distance are correlated traits within and between sexes that may reflect individual variation within an integrated phenotype in which testosterone has correlated effects on behavioral traits such as migration.

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