Environmental regulation of the reproductive system in a flexibly breeding Sonoran Desert bird, the Rufous-winged Sparrow, Aimophila carpalis

Thomas W. Small, Peter J. Sharp, Pierre Deviche

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50 Scopus citations


We investigated reproductive regulation in male Rufous-winged Sparrows, Aimophila carpalis, a Sonoran Desert passerine that breeds after irregular summer rains. Field and captive data demonstrate that increased photoperiod stimulates testicular development in March and maintains it until early September. Free-living birds caught in July and placed on captive long days (16L: 8D) maintained developed testes for up to 7 months, and free-living birds caught in September, during testicular regression, redeveloped testes when placed on captive long days, indicating that these birds were still photosensitive. Captive birds on long days maintained testicular development when exposed to temperatures mimicking those occurring during regression in free-living birds. In free-living birds, testicular development was observed during spring and summer, but unless this was associated with rainfall, breeding (indicated by juveniles) did not occur. Large increases in plasma luteinizing hormone (LH) in free-living males were correlated with heavy rainfall in July/August, when the birds bred, and in November, when they did not breed. In captive birds, plasma LH concentrations were unresponsive to photoperiodic changes, but may have responded to social cues. Plasma prolactin concentrations were directly correlated with photoperiod in free-living birds, but an effect of photoperiod on prolactin secretion was not seen in captive birds. It is concluded that male Rufous-winged Sparrows use long photoperiods to stimulate and maintain testicular development, but exposure to long photoperiods does not terminate breeding by inducing absolute photorefractoriness. The specific timing of reproductive behaviors is apparently determined by elevated plasma LH coinciding with long day stimulated gonad development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-495
Number of pages13
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2007


  • Bird
  • Environmental cues
  • Gonads
  • LH
  • Molt
  • Photorefractoriness
  • Prolactin
  • Rain
  • Reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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