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Sex recognition by odour and variation in the uropygial gland secretion in starlings

AuthorsAmo, Luisa ; Avilés, Jesús M. ; Parejo, Deseada ; Peña, Aránzazu ; Rodríguez, Juan ; Tomás, Gustavo
KeywordsAvian olfaction
Chemical ecology
Sex recognition
Sturnus unicolor
Uropygial gland
Issue Date5-Jan-2012
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationJournal of Animal Ecology 81(3): 605-613 (2012)
Abstract1. Although a growing body of evidence supports that olfaction based on chemical compounds emitted by birds may play a role in individual recognition, the possible role of chemical cues in sexual selection of birds has been only preliminarily studied.
2. We investigated for the first time whether a passerine bird, the spotless starling Sturnus unicolor, was able to discriminate the sex of conspecifics by using olfactory cues and whether the size and secretion composition of the uropygial gland convey information on sex, age and reproductive status in this species.
3. We performed a blind choice experiment during mating, and we found that starlings were able to discriminate the sex of conspecifics by using chemical cues alone. Both male and female starlings preferred male scents. Furthermore, the analysis of the chemical composition of the uropygial gland secretion by using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) revealed differences between sexes, ages and reproductive status.
4. In conclusion, our study reveals for first time that a passerine species can discriminate the sex of conspecifics by relying on chemical cues and suggests that the uropygial gland secretion may potentially function as a chemical signal used in mate choice and/or intrasexual competition in this species.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2656.2011.01940.x
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