Postmigratory body condition and ovarian steroid production predict breeding decisions by female gray-headed albatrosses
Carryover effects have been documented in many migratory bird species, but we know little about the physiological mechanisms that mediate those effects. Here we show that the energetic, endocrine, and aerobic characteristics of postmigratory female gray-headed albatrosses (Thalassarche chrysostoma) can affect their decision to breed. All females in this study, whether breeding or not, were secreting ovarian steroids when they arrived at the breeding colony at Bird Island, South Georgia, which suggests that all were responding to seasonal cues. However, deferring, nonbreeding birds were characterized by a steroid profile of high progesterone (P4) and low testosterone (T), whereas breeding birds showed the opposite pattern. Deferring birds also had low body mass, hematocrit, and hemoglobin. These results suggest that postmigratory condition can influence patterns of ovarian steroidogenesis and that the maintenance of high P4 without subsequent conversion to T favors breeding deferral. Whereas breeding females normally convert P4 to T, which is a key deterministic step toward 17β-estradiol synthesis, vitellogenesis, and follicle development, deferring females did not make this conversion and instead maintained high levels of P4, perhaps due to inhibition of the hydroxylase-lyase enzyme complex, thus rendering them infertile for the current season. Results are discussed within the context of the biennial breeding system of this species, and comparisons with other biennially and annually breeding albatrosses are made.
Authors: Crossin, Glenn T., Phillips, Richard A., Wynne-Edwards, Katherine E., Williams, Tony D.