Longitudinal monitoring of sex steroid hormones in excrement of spectacled eiders (Somateria fischeri)

Abigail Ellsworth, C. Loren Buck, Shannon Atkinson, Tuula Hollmén

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


From the 1970s to the 1990s, the breeding population of spectacled eiders (Somateria fischeri) in western Alaska declined by 96%, which led to the listing of this species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. Since then, the population has stabilized, but has not recovered to pre-decline numbers. While little is known about reproductive endocrinology in spectacled eiders, in other avian species, estrogen and testosterone are known to initiate and modulate various reproductive processes including yolk protein synthesis, reproductive behaviors and secondary sex characteristics. Measurement of the metabolites of estrogen and testosterone (EM and TM, respectively) in excrement reflect circulating hormone concentrations and provide a non-invasive method to monitor reproductive physiology. We measured concentrations of excreted EM in captive females and TM in males to (1) determine the efficacy of commercially available radioimmunoassay kits to detect EM and TM, (2) describe annual profiles of EM and TM concentrations, and (3) define the reproductive season of captive spectacled eiders using endocrine status. Excrement samples were collected from captive female and male spectacled eiders three times per week throughout 1. year. Female EM and male TM levels were quantified using radioimmunoassay. Mean female EM profile exhibited values exceeding the threshold for "peak" values (EM. >. 193.3. ng/g) from mid-February to early July, and again in September. Additionally, the highest average concentrations of EM were seen in March, May and September. Elevated TM concentrations occurred in mid March, mid May and late June. These data suggest that levels of excreted sex steroids reflect patterns predicted by breeding landmarks in the annual cycle and will assist in field monitoring and captive breeding programs for spectacled eiders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-65
Number of pages7
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Avian
  • Estrogen
  • RIA
  • Sex steroids
  • Spectacled eider
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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