Abstract. Plasma concentration of androgens and gonad development were studied in wild cooperatively breeding bell miners (Manorina melanophrys) of different age, sex and social status. Plasma levels of androgens increased with age of birds. For sexually mature (SM) bell miners, androgen levels were higher in breeders than in non-breeding (NB) helpers (P0.005), and they were marginally higher in females than in males (P0.10). Thus female breeders showed the highest plasma levels of androgens. This pattern may be explained by an asymmetry between the sexes in the levels of competition needed to reach and defend breeding status; the degree of intra-sexual competition seems to be higher among female bell miners than among males. In general, male breeders had larger gonads than male SMNB helpers; male breeder gonads produced spermatozoa whereas most helpers gonads did not. However, old (i.e. 34 months) SMNB male helpers had large gonads producing spermatozoa in spite of having low plasma levels of androgens. We suggest that young male bell miners may be under a voluntary mechanism of reproductive suppression perhaps favoured by inbreeding avoidance; although some aggressive interactions observed between very young helpers (about 2 months) and adult members of the breeding unit suggests that a certain degree of imposition also occurs at young ages. Older male helpers may avoid aggression with the male breeder and imposed reproductive suppression, hence the low circulating levels of androgens, but they have the potential to sneak extra-pair copulations. Gonad size decreased during the non-breeding season in both sexes.
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