No evidence for selective follicle abortion underlying primary sex ratio adjustment in pigeons

Vivian C. Goerlich*, Cornelis Dijkstra, Antonius Groothuis

*Corresponding author for this work

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Primary sex ratio adjustment in birds has been extensively studied, yet the underlying physiological mechanisms are far from understood. Avian females are the heterogametic sex (ZW), and the future sex of the offspring is determined at chromosome segregation during meiosis I, shortly before the oocyte is ovulated. Assuming that the mother can detect the sex of the developing oocyte before ovulation, it has been suggested that a follicle of the un-preferred sex could selectively be induced to become atretic and regress instead of being ovulated (selective follicle abortion). This potential mechanism has been proposed to underlie biased primary sex ratios in birds, including the homing pigeon (Columba livia domestica), which produces a modal clutch size of two eggs. However, without replacement by an additional, already mature follicle, abortion of a preovulatory follicle would most likely result in either reduced clutch sizes or laying gaps, since a not-yet-recruited follicle still needed to undergo the whole maturation phase. In the current study we killed female pigeons, which were adjusting embryo sex of first eggs according to change in body mass. We examined ovaries for signs of follicle abortion but did not find any supporting evidence. All females produced one or two mature follicles but only two out of the 56 experimental birds produced an additional third mature follicle. Therefore, our results do not corroborate the hypothesis that pigeon mothers manipulate primary offspring sex by selectively aborting follicles of the un-preferred sex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-606
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2010


  • Avian
  • Primary sex ratio
  • Mechanism
  • Oogenesis
  • Atresia
  • Meiotic drive
  • Columbidae
  • EGG
  • YOLK

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