Parental role division predicts avian preen wax cycles

Jeroen Reneerkens*, Juliana B. Almeida, David B. Lank, Joop Jukema, Richard B. Lanctot, R. I. Guy Morrison, W. Irene C. Rijpstra, Douglas Schamel, Hans Schekkerman, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damste, Pavel S. Tomkovich, Diane M. Tracy, Ingrid Tulp, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Previous studies have shown that preen wax composition in some sandpipers shifts from the usual monoesters to diesters during the breeding season, possibly to reduce the ability of mammalian predators to find nests using olfactory cues. To investigate further the relationship between incubation and wax secretion, we examined seven sandpiper species with different incubation patterns (species in which both sexes incubate, in which only males incubate and in which only females incubate). During the breeding period, diester preen wax was secreted almost exclusively by the incubating sex in species with uniparental incubation, and by both sexes in species with biparental incubation. These findings suggest that diester preen waxes have a function that is directly related to incubation. Unexpectedly, in female-incubating Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis, some males also secreted diester preen waxes during the breeding period. This suggests that some males may in fact incubate, that these waxes may be a remnant from their evolutionary past when both sexes incubated, or that males need to be olfactorally cryptic because they are involved in the making of nest scrapes. The seasonal pattern of preen wax composition was also studied in captive male, female and female-mimicking male ('faeder') Ruff Philomachus pugnax. Captive female Ruff changed preen wax composition from monoesters to diesters in the spring despite the fact that no incubation took place. This suggests that circannual rhythms rather than actual incubation behaviour may trigger the shift to diester waxes. All captive male Ruff, including the faeders, continued to secrete monoesters, supporting the hypothesis that only the incubating sex secretes diesters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-729
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2007


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