Shield characteristics are testosterone-dependent in both male and female moorhens.
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The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis proposes that the expression of secondary sexual characteristics is positively related to testosterone levels, but that elevated testosterone levels also impose costs from immune suppression. Hence, testosterone-dependent characteristics should accurately reflect male quality because only high-quality males are able to invest in large sexual characteristics without detrimental effects upon their own immune system. Most studies to date have focused on the role of testosterone in the expression of male ornaments and on the possible immunosuppressant effects of androgens in males. In the moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), a sexually monomorphic monogamous bird species showing a partial sex-role reversal, both sexes have a prominent frontal shield. We implanted both sexes with testosterone-filled implants to examine the effects of testosterone on shield characteristics and immune function. Shield size, thickness, and color were significantly increased by an experimental increase in testosterone concentrations in both males and females. Likewise, removal of the implants led to a rapid decrease in shield size and thickness in both males and females, suggesting that both sexes responded quickly to an increase or a decrease in testosterone. Moorhens implanted with testosterone had higher intensities of ectoparasite infestations than control birds, but other indirect measures of immunocompetence did not differ significantly between the two categories of birds.