Parental care is a widespread phenomenon observed in many diverse taxa. Neuroendocrine systems have long been thought to play an important role in stimulating the onset of parental behavior. In most birds with altricial young, circulating prolactin (PRL) levels are low during non-breeding times and significantly increase during late incubation and early post-hatch chick care. Because of this pattern, PRL has been suggested to be involved in the initiation of parental care in birds, but rarely has this hypothesis been causally tested. To begin testing the hypothesis, we inhibited the release of endogenous PRL with bromocriptine (BR) on the 3days prior to hatching in incubating parents and the first 2days of post-hatch care, when PRL was found to be highest in zebra finches. Nest temperatures were recorded during all 5days and parental behavior was recorded on days 1–2 post-hatch. In addition to hormonal systems, reproductive experience may also influence parental care; therefore, we tested age-matched inexperienced and experienced pairs in each group. BR either eliminated or drastically reduced chick brooding and feeding behavior, resulting in decreased nest temperatures on days 1 and 2 post-hatch. Experienced control birds fed chicks more than inexperienced birds and control females fed more than males. Chick feeding behavior was positively correlated in control male-female pairs, but not in BR pairs. This is one of the few causal studies to demonstrate that PRL is necessary for post-hatch care in a biparental songbird, and is the first to show this effect in zebra finches.
Hormones and Behavior – Elsevier
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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