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Potential mechanisms of avian sex manipulation

Lookup NU author(s): Thomas Pike, Emerita Professor Marion Petrie


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The aim of this review is to consider the potential mechanisms birds may use to manipulate the sex of their progeny, and the possible role played by maternal hormones. Over the past few years there has been a surge of reports documenting the ability of birds to overcome the rigid process of chromosomal sex determination. However, while many of these studies leave us in little doubt that mechanisms allowing birds to achieve this feat do exist, we are only left with tantalizing suggestions as to what the precise mechanism or mechanisms may be. The quest to elucidate them is made no easier by the fact that a variety of environmental conditions have been invoked in relation to sex manipulation, and there is no reason to assume that any particular mechanism is conserved among the vast diversity of species that can achieve it. In fact, a number of intriguing proposals have been put forward. We begin by briefly reviewing some of the most recent examples of this phenomenon before highlighting some of the more plausible mechanisms, drawing on recent work from a variety of taxa. In birds, females are the heterogametic sex and so non-Mendelian segregation of the sex chromosomes could conceivably be under maternal control. Another suggestion is that follicles that ultimately give rise to males and females grow at different rates. Alternatively, the female might selectively abort embryos or‘dump lay’eggs of a particular sex, deny certain ova a chance of ovulation, fertilization or zygote formation, or selectively provision eggs so that there is sex-specific embryonic mortality. The ideas outlined in this review provide good starting points for testing the hypotheses both experimentally (behaviourally and physiologically) and theoretically.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pike TW, Petrie M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biological Reviews

Year: 2003

Volume: 78

Issue: 4

Pages: 553-574

ISSN (print): 1464-7931

ISSN (electronic): 1469-185X

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1017/S1464793103006146


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