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Photoperiod as a proximate factor in control of seasonality in the subtropical male Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus

Author(s): Dixit Anand | Singh Namram

Journal: Frontiers in Zoology
ISSN 1742-9994

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Abstract Background Most species of birds exhibit well-defined seasonality in their various physiological and behavioral functions like reproduction, molt, bill color etc. such that they occur at the most appropriate time of the year. Day length has been shown to be a major source of temporal information regulating seasonal reproduction and associated events in a number of avian species. The present study aims to investigate the role of photoperiod in control of seasonal cycles in the subtropical male tree sparrow (Passer montanus) and to compare its responses at Shillong (Latitude 25°34'N, Longitude 91°53'E) with those exhibited by its conspecifics and related species at other latitudes. Results Initial experiment involving study of seasonal cycles revealed that the wild tree sparrows posses definite seasonal cycles of testicular volume, molt and bill color. These cycles were found remarkably linked to annual solar cycle suggesting the possibility of their photoperiodic control. To confirm this possibility in the next experiment, the photosensitive birds were exposed to three different light-dark regimes that were close to what they experience at this latitude: 9L/15D (close to shortest day length), 12L/12D (equinox day length) and 14L/10D (close to longest day length) for 18 months. Tree sparrows showed testicular growth followed by regression and development of photorefractoriness, molting and bill color changes only under long daily photoperiods (12 L and 14 L) but not under short daily photoperiod (9 L). Birds, under stimulatory photoperiods, did not show reinitiation of the above responses after the completion of initiation regression cycle even after their exposure to these photoperiods for 18 months. This precludes the possibility of circannual rhythm generation and suggests the involvement of photoperiodic mechanism in control of their seasonal cycles. Further, replacement of body and primary feathers progressed with gonadal regression only under long days suggesting that the two high energy demanding events of reproduction and molt are phased at two different times in the annual cycle of the bird and are photoperiodically regulated. Results of the final experiment involving exposure of photosensitive birds to a variety of photoperiodic treatments (9L/15D, 10L/14D, 11L/13D, 12L/12D, 14L/10D and 16L/8D) for 30 days suggested that the light falling for 11 h or more is important in inducing testicular growth and function in this species. Conclusion These results clearly indicate that despite of small photofluctuation, subtropical tree sparrows are capable of fine discrimination of photoperiodic information and use day length as a proximate environmental factor to time their seasonal responses similar to their conspecifics and related species at other latitudes suggesting the conservation of photoperiodic control mechanism in them.
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