In various studies, chronic elevation of corticosterone levels in female birds under natural or experimental conditions resulted in female biased offspring sex ratios. In chicken, one study with injected corticosterone resulted in a male sex ratio bias. In the current study, we chronically elevated blood plasma corticosterone levels through corticosterone feeding (20 mg/kg feed) for 14 days using 30 chicken hens in each of treatment and control groups and studied the primary offspring sex ratio (here defined as the proportion of male fertile eggs determined in freshly laid eggs, i.e., without egg incubation). Mean plasma corticosterone concentrations were significantly higher in the treatment group but were not associated with sex ratio, laying rate, and fertility rate. Corticosterone treatment by itself did not affect egg sex but affected sex ratio as well as laying rate and fertility rate in interaction with hen body mass. Body mass had a negative association with sex ratio, laying rate, and fertility rate per hen in the corticosterone group, but a positive association with sex ratio in untreated hens. These interactions were already seen when taking the body mass at the beginning of the experiment, indicating intrinsic differences between light and heavy hens with regard to their reaction to corticosterone treatment. The effects on laying rate, fertility rate, and sex ratio suggest that some factor related to body mass act together with corticosterone to modulate ovarian functions. We propose that corticosterone treatment in conjunction with hen body mass can interfere with meiosis, which can lead to meiotic drive and to chromosomal aberrations resulting in postponed ovulation or infertile ova.
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Vol. 90 • No. 4