No sex difference in preen oil chemical composition during incubation in Kentish plovers

Marc Gilles, András Kosztolányi, Afonso D. Rocha, Innes C. Cuthill, Tamás Székely, Barbara A. Caspers

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Preen oil, the secretion from the uropygial gland of birds, may have a specific function in incubation. Consistent with this, during incubation, the chemical composition of preen oil is more likely to differ between sexes in species where only one sex incubates than in species where both sexes incubate. In this study, we tested the generality of this apparent difference, by investigating sex differences in the preen oil composition of a shorebird species, the Kentish plover (Anarhynchus, formerly Charadrius, alexandrinus). As both sexes incubate in this species, we predicted the absence of sex differences in preen oil composition during incubation. In the field, we sampled preen oil from nine females and 11 males during incubation, which we analysed with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS). Consistent with predictions, we found no sex difference in preen oil composition, neither in beta diversity (Bray-Curtis dissimilarities) nor in alpha diversity (Shannon index and number of substances). Based on these results, we cannot conclude whether preen oil has a function during incubation in Kentish plovers. Still, we discuss hypothetical roles, such as olfactory crypsis, protection against ectoparasites or olfactory intraspecific communication, which remain to be tested.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17243
Issue number5
Early online date8 May 2024
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2024

Data Availability Statement

The chemical (chromatographic) data, metadata, variables of the metadata of the preen oil samples and R code used for the analyses are available in the Supplemental Files and at the repository PUB–Publications at Bielefeld University,, DOI:


  • Avian scent
  • Bird odour
  • Charadriiformes
  • Chemical profile
  • Olfactory communication
  • Sex semiochemical
  • Uropygial gland secretion
  • Wader

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences

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