A condition dependent link between testosterone and disease resistance in the house finch

R. A. Duckworth, M. T. Mendonça, G. E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Testosterone has recently been proposed as a link between male quality and health and the expression of sexual traits. We investigated the relationship between testosterone and measures of the individual condition and health of males in a natural population of house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus). We also conducted a captive experiment in order to test for the effects of testosterone on resistance to coccidia, which is a common parasite of house finches. Free-living males in better condition had higher testosterone levels and lower corticosterone levels than free-living males in poor condition. In our captive experiment, increased testosterone accelerated the rate of coccidial infection as compared with sham-implanted or gonadectomized males. Although the differences were not significant, free-living males infected with coccidia had lower levels of testosterone and higher levels of corticosterone than males that were not infected. Thus, experimentally elevating testosterone levels in captive males resulted in a higher percentage of infected males, while free-living males with coccidial infection had low testosterone levels. This apparent discrepancy between captive and free-living males in the association of testosterone and disease may be explained by the condition dependence of testosterone. These results suggest that the testosterone-dependent sexual traits reliably indicate male overall condition and health and, thus, females could benefit fi-om assessing potential mates based on these traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2467-2472
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1484
StatePublished - Dec 7 2001


  • Condition dependent
  • Corticosterone
  • Disease susceptibility
  • Immunocompetence
  • Sexual selection
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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